A Conversation with SHAG: The Influence of ‘Star Wars,’ ‘Planet of the Apes’ & More on His Pop-Culture Painting

EXCLUSIVE: For the uninitiated, “Shag World” is a world like no other. A colorful, pop-art party landscape populated by swingers, bohemians, hedonists, and mirthful, mythical creatures, it’s hard not to be swept away by the fun everyone seems to be having within the frame, if not envious of their endless 24/7 reverie.

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My introduction to the art of Shag, aka Josh Agle (take the SH in JoSH and the AG in AGle and you get SHAG. Clever, eh?), goes back to the early 2000s along with my nascent days of Polynesian pop appreciation. After diving into “Tiki culture” and drinking in as much of the traditional and kitschy Pacific Island “getaway” lifestyle, art, books, and merchandise that I could get my hands on (as well as numerous tropical cocktails along the way), I couldn’t help but get seduced by Shag’s colorful characters, carefree creatures, exotic settings, and subtle pop-culture references that seemed to be everywhere once I had opened my eyes to his work.

f33e6067275058c1caabae49fd4fccb4Beyond the numerous Tiki, nightclub, Bondian, Blake Edwards and ‘50s influences, I noticed that Shag had a sincere appreciation for Sci-Fi, fantasy, and horror icons. Amid skeletons playing bongos, four-armed burlesque dancers seducing fez-wearing gents, and mythical creatures like a Cyclops watching TV or Medusa applying makeup in his settings are appearances by Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, and even Dr. Zaius of PLANET OF THE APES simply lounging in a den, enjoying a well-deserved drink — or passed-out drunk.

886e43a1643b6aba2a895f0ef506aa18.jpgShag’s cartoonish style is a perfect marriage with these fan favorites of the pop-culture stratosphere, and it’s no surprise that he has taken on more and more commissions to put licensed characters in Shag World for various companies and studios. Over the years, he has tackled THE PINK PANTHER, BATMAN, H.R. PUFNSTUF, THE TWILIGHT ZONE, the UNIVERSAL MONSTERS, and WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, as well as iconic rockers such as The Beatles and Ramones and legendary media figures such as Andy Warhol and Bettie Page.

San Diego Comic-Con 2017 Exclusive SMOKE, VELVET and SAM II Screen Prints by SHAG.jpgI caught up with Shag at his first-ever San Diego Comic-Con appearance this July, where he displayed rare prints (including his fun BATMAN ’66 painting), a giant H.R. Pufnstuf photo backdrop, cool themed merchandise, and a trio of Comic-Con exclusives: Limited-edition silk-screened prints of Bob Dylan, David Bowie, and Warhol. 

Our conversation focused on his film and television pop-culture influences, how he tackles licensed character work, what subject matter he surprisingly refuses to paint, and what’s next for him in 2018. Read on…

DW with SHAG 

DAVID WEINER: You’ve made a name for yourself with a certain, colorful look and feel in your paintings which often veer into pure fantasy territory in terms of content. Tell me about your inspirations.

SHAG: Low pop culture, as people would think of it — at least people in the fine-art world — that was the stuff that definitely influenced me. But I was trying to somehow figure out how to present it in such a way that it could be hung in an art gallery. So I was trying to strike this balance between making a piece of art that people looked at and thought, ‘Well that looks like it could be in a gallery,’ but also something that touched on the really kitschy pop-culture things that influenced me growing up, starting from Saturday morning cartoons to the first grown-up movie my parents took me to, which was a double feature of THUNDERBALL and YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, the James Bond movies. And that was kind of my first window into what grown-ups do, you know? Martini, shaken not stirred, the super villains, and things like that made a total impression on me.

shag4.jpgGrowing up mostly in the late ‘60s to ‘70s it was PLANET OF THE APES, going back to the days when the only place you could see it was on TV and it would be shown once a year, so you had to make sure you were on top of the TV Guide to see what movies were being shown that week because you might not have another chance to see that movie for another year, another five years. And I remember when they announced on ABC that they were going to be showing PLANET OF THE APES, I remembered as an 8-year-old or 10-year-old marking it on my calendar — not that I had a calendar! But things like that — MAD MONSTER PARTY — those were things that you organized your life around so you could see them.

And then years later when I'm painting my own stuff, I wanted to bring those really influential things from my childhood into the art — especially PLANET OF THE APES. That was probably the first real, overt pop-culture thing that made its way into my heart really early on.

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DW: Did you catch any APES movies in the theater, like ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES, or CONQUEST, or any of those?

SHAG: I was too young, even for BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES. I don't remember even being aware that they were in theaters. I knew what they were. The weird thing is kids bring to school magazines and pictures of the movies that are out there — like I remember a kid when I was in fifth grade, he had this book about 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, and I remember we would look at this book and it had pictures with the spaceships and the spacesuits. I loved that book and I had no idea what the movie was or what it was about, you know? But the spaceships were kind of like my entry into that.

And then when I was 14 or 15 I was riding the school bus and the school bus driver would just play Top 40 kind of radio, and this radio commercial came on and you heard these spaceship sounds, and then this voice-over said, ‘Don’t worry, that's just a Star Destroyer!’ And they talk about these spaceships, and they say, ‘STAR WARS, coming to your galaxy!’ And I remember thinking, ‘STAR WARS, what a stupid movie title! 1c9493e49bdfc157964f340e60ef6ef2.jpgThat’s like calling a movie CAR CHASE or MILITARY BATTLE, you know? I was like, ‘That’s a really dumb name!’ Then a couple weeks later I was at the movies. I even remember the movie that my friends and I were seeing — it was JABBERWOCKY — and they had a preview for STAR WARS, and I remember seeing that preview and thinking, ‘That is going to be the best movie ever made.’ Like, ‘What is that guy in black?!? What are those white soldiers?!? I don't know, but it looks so cool!’ So the day STAR WARS was released my friends and I stood in line for the very first matinee showing, got in to see it the very first day it was released, and I was like, ‘I was right! That is the best movie I've ever seen in my life.’ So that was like another huge kind of pop culture thing in my life. But STAR WARS didn't really make it into my art until later. [However] I painted a Darth Vader action figure on a table in a painting once…

DW: I know the one, and it is pretty much the epitome of my childhood, with these ‘70s kids playing in their living room. One is playing with a TIE fighter, one with a remote-control R2-D2. One of the kids has a KISS T-shirt on while their mom watches. I really connected with that painting. I was 9 when STAR WARS came out, and that was my childhood.

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SHAG: Yeah, that’s the first overt STAR WARS one I did. You were young enough where you got the toys. I was, like, 14 so I didn't buy the toys, regretfully. But I loved everything else about it, you know? My younger brothers and sisters had the toys. Remember when the movie first came out you went to like Toys R Us to buy an action figure and you bought an empty card with a thing that said, ‘We’ll send it to you in the mail’?

DW: The Kenner Early Bird Kit! I remember it well. So when you finally did take on STAR WARS for Disney, did you seek it out? Did they ask you? How did that come about?

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SHAG: A gallery in Alhambra called Nucleus contacted me and they said, ‘We’re doing this STAR WARS-themed show, would you be interested in doing a piece?’ And I was like, ‘I love STAR WARS; I've never painted it, but I wanted to do a piece that was kind of still in Shag World. That’s how that painting you were talking about, the kids playing with the toys, came about; the mom sitting there lying on the couch, she’s more like the stereotypical Shag woman, drinking her martini or whatever, watching her kids play. I didn't want to actually paint a scene from the movie or anything. I wanted to keep it in Shag World. And then a couple years after that someone at Disney asked me if I would ever think about doing STAR WARS. Disney bought Lucasfilm, and I was like, ‘Eh, maybe,’ and then they said, ‘Well Howard Roffman, who's the head of merchandising in Lucasfilm, really wants you to do something.’

DW: And this was after you established a relationship with Disney with the Enchanted Tiki Room 40th anniversary and so forth?

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SHAG: Yeah, I’ve been working with Disney for 12 or 13 years, basically doing Disneyland-themed art. I wouldn’t even paint Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck. They came to me a few times and asked me, and I said that it's just not my thing. There are a lot of great artists that paint those characters and I don't want to paint them — I want to paint my childhood, which was going to Disneyland. So they're like, ‘Okay, he'll stick to the attractions, Haunted Mansion, whatever.'”

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DW: Did you have discussions about the STAR WARS content? How did you choose the setting and characters?

SHAG: I thought, ‘How could I get as many characters into this piece?’ And one of the women I work with at Disney said, ‘I’d love to see a Cantina scene,’ and I said to myself, ‘Duh, I paint bar scenes! Why didn’t I think of that?”

DW: It was staring you right in the face the whole time.

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SHAG: Yeah! So I did a comp of the piece and they sent it up to Lucasfilm. They had a couple little notes. In my piece, Greedo was sitting in the foreground at a table. He wasn't in the back room talking to Han Solo because I set the piece as Luke and the robots just walk into the Cantina and Obi-Wan’s making his deal, you know? Han doesn’t meet with Greedo until after that. And they’re like, ‘We don’t care! People want you to crowd [as many recognizable moments] as you can into the piece.’ So I put the little scene with Greedo and Han in the background.

DW: You’re too much of a purist with the timeline.

SHAG: I know (laughs).

DW: The first licensed work that I remember you doing for a studio was the PINK PANTHER 40th anniversary box set, which I loved. Was that your first foray into working with studios, or was there other stuff before that? 

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SHAG: Yeah, that was my first studio thing. I think that was released in 2004, but I'd been working on it through 2003. I love the PINK PANTHER stuff — just the style and the fact that [the Pink Panther character himself] didn't talk, because my paintings don’t talk. I've been approached by a lot of animation people and studios and producers who want to animate my stuff, and for the most part, I'm not interested in that because once you give a character a voice and personality, he gets stuck forever. And I kind of want people to project a little bit of themselves into the paintings.

DW: Does that play into SHAG WITH A TWIST, the musical based on your paintings and characters?

SHAG: Yeah, in SHAG WITH A TWIST, which was that dance musical murder mystery, one of my restrictions was the characters couldn't talk, kind of fitting into that whole Pink Panther thing — the whole, 'I don't want to give him a voice.'"

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DW: Let’s talk about your recent BATMAN '66 work.

SHAG: Mattel approached me about three years ago to do a BATMAN box set sort of thing as a Comic-Con exclusive they were going to sell in 2014. They wanted me to design this environment in this TV box in Shag style. So that was the first licensed superhero thing I've ever done. And then the next year Huckleberry Toys asked me if I wanted to do a bigger, more comprehensive Batman print because they had they had a DC license, and that was their Comic-Con exclusive in 2015.

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And then they did the same thing for H.R. Pufnstuf last year in 2016. That was a Huckleberry exclusive as well. I didn’t want that one to be set in Pufnstuf world. If you look closely, they’re on a set and you can see Sid and Marty Krofft there filming the scene, so it’s back a little bit in the real world — not that Shag World is the real world (laughs).

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DW: What would you like to do for your next license? Do you see anything out in particular, or do you just decide when people come to you?

SHAG: I just paint, and people approach me if they have a license or something and if it’s something I’m interested in. Like I work with a company called Dark Hall Mansion on a few license things. I did a box set of Universal Monsters. Monsters like Frankenstein or Dracula have played a part in my art since the beginning, but never like, ‘You can draw Frankenstein so it looks like Boris Karloff because we have this license.’ So that was something I really wanted to do.

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DW: They all fit very well in Shag World, listening to records or sitting around having a martini at the bar. Because it makes perfect sense that, at the end of the day, that’s what the Creature From the Black Lagoon would do!

SHAG: And I love a lot of current stuff — I’d love to do a GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY piece, which doesn’t seem like it would fit in Shag World at all, but I would figure out a way to do it! It’s definitely colorful, it’s hedonistic, and Shag World is very hedonistic as well, so I’m sure I could work that out.

DW: Can you give me a hint about what you’re working on next?

SHAG: We’re actually going to be doing some official PLANET OF THE APES stuff for next year’s Comic-Con because it’s going to be the 50th anniversary of the original movie.

DW: That’s great! I’m very excited to see that. And just throwing it out there for purely selfish reasons, would you consider doing something with the original BATTLESTAR GALACTICA? That’s coming up on its 40th anniversary.

SHAG: Aaaaah! Yeah, I watched the original one as a kid.

DW: You’ve got the Cylons and the Ovions, and you also have those alien torch singers with the two mouths and four eyes that could fit right in with Shag World. Food for thought.

SHAG: I wouldn’t rule that one out. There’s certain things I’ve said I would never do. Like I’ll never do STAR TREK, even though I loved it as a kid. My mom was a huge, huge fan, and she would watch it every day in syndication in the early ‘70s and I totally got hooked into it. But it was such a huge [thing for me]. It’s hard to explain. Like I won’t paint Elvis, I won’t paint Marilyn Monroe, and I won’t paint STAR TREK for some reason.

DW: It’s too close for you. I would venture to think that in your own way, you don’t want to ruin it for yourself.

SHAG: Yeah, that’s very possible!

DW: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk. I’m anxious to see what comes next. Your work inspires!

SHAG: My pleasure!

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For more info on SHAG:www.shag.com

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Then see more of my ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT-related tales and interviews,  Summer Music Recommendations, movie reviews, or there’s plenty of STAR WARS musingsFamous Monsters funcool vintage movie lobby cards, etc.

The Force is With These 1977 ‘Star Wars’ Lobby Cards

When STAR WARS first arrived in theaters in the summer of 1977, word spread like wildfire that this was no ordinary movie diversion. It was an experience. It was a blockbuster. And it quickly became a bonafide phenomenon. Of course, they called movies like JAWS and STAR WARS blockbusters because audiences would line up around the block for hours waiting to get in to see the movie and see what all the hype was about — or to see it again and again and again.tumblr_lfyv9fOfwG1qc823io1_1280Outside the theater, lobby cards would always be displayed to entice audiences and provide a taste of what’s to come once those theater lights would dim. I have very specific memories of waiting in line to get into screenings of STAR WARS and staring at the STAR WARS lobby cards — in particular the one of the Stormtrooper riding on a Dewback, the one in which Darth Vader first enters the Rebel Blockade Runner, and the one of Han Solo and Chewbacca aiming their blasters in front of the Millennium Falcon. These images truly sparked my imagination — and also remind me of how patient I had to be as a nine-year-old, twiddling my thumbs while talking about the movie with my friends and family until I could get through those doors and see it. Again. And again. And again.

Star Wars 15Here are close to 20 original STAR WARS Lobby Cards from 1977. Enjoy!

A little background info on lobby cards I like to regularly share for context: Back in the days before the Internet, movie lobby cards were a powerful tool used by Hollywood studios to lure audiences into the darkened theater. They were the last line of enticement — and sometimes the first — alongside carpet-bombing consumers with coming attractions, movie posters, marquees, publicity stunts, movie program books, and newspaper advertisements for their newest big-screen sensation. With no entertainment websites or blogs available to tease audiences with stills from their films, lobby cards served that purpose for the studio publicity machine. These days, movie theater lobbies have eschewed the traditional lobby card for posters, standees, trailers on repeat, experiential activations and more.

More Lobby Cards to ogle:

More STAR WARS stories: 

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My ‘Star Wars’ Story and Mark Hamill Musings on the Blockbuster’s 40th Anniversary

STAR WARS arrived in movie theaters across America 40 years ago today: May 25, 1977. Like so many people of my generation, the George Lucas Sci-Fi fantasy rocked my world and changed the trajectory of my future aspirations. After seeing STAR WARS, I knew I would work in movies some day. I planned to head west to California and be part of the entertainment industry. And I hoped — dreamed, really — that one day I could make something that would exhilarate audiences exactly the way that film did for me.

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I first saw STAR WARS in Yonkers, New York at the Central Plaza Cinema in the hot summer of 1977 — the first of many times at that spot.large I was nine years old, and I remember walking into that theater with my mother and sister knowing very little about what I was about to see, but excited to be about to see it since I had seen the trailers a few times on television. Once the lights dimmed and those blue words appeared on the screen — A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… — I was lost down the rabbit hole of that Lucasfilm universe and would never be the same again. Literally. I walked out of that theater in Yonkers a changed individual.

So many of us had that same exact experience seeing STAR WARS for the first time during the summer of ’77.  I remember pressing my nose to the glass and getting the STAR WARS souvenir program book next to the candy selections at the theater the second time I went to see the film. As the huge crowd settled in, I dove into that thing to learn as much as I could about the film — the characters, the creatures, the actors, the filmmakers, the behind-the-scenes details, even who did what in the “technical crew” like the costume designer, matte artist, and chief model maker — before the lights would dim and I would be transported back to that galaxy far, far away again.

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There are certain indelible art images I have from my earliest experiences with STAR WARS marketing that take me back to that first tingly feeling I had about the film: The colorful, deep-blue Hildebrandt movie poster; the John Berkey art on the cover of the paperback novel; the amazing Berkey-painted battle over the Death Star poster that was included with the John Williams double-record soundtrack album. That epic Tom Jung art on the souvenir book, and his one-sheet that became the template for the brothers Hildebrandt version.star_wars_style_a.jpgIt all meant so much to me then because there was so little material available when STAR WARS initially was released. I’d pore over anything I could get to relive the film in my head until more books and merchandise became available to round out the experience — Topps STAR WARS trading cards, plastic lightsabers, Kenner toys, T-shirts, iron-ons, bed sheets and pajamas, and then so much more. Much, much, much, much more now.

“For someone who grew up on Famous Monsters magazine and Ray Harryhausen, I just couldn’t believe how much fun we were having doing it.”  

–  Mark Hamill

Cut to summer of 2012 and my first opportunity to meet the hero of my favorite movie of all time. I first met Mark Hamill for an ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT interview in San Diego just outside of Comic-Con in July. He made himself available to talk about his role in the indie film SUSHI GIRL but was happy to oblige a few questions about STAR WARS.

541507_4259684252109_1250516363_nAs we all know, the man had been asked every question there was to ask a million times over about what it was like to be in the middle of the George Lucas maelstrom. So I simply asked if he’d share his most indelible memory from the experience as a whole, whether it was a personal moment on the set or the first time he’d seen his Luke Skywalker action figure.

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“I would say moments of reflection in North Africa with Sir Alec Guinness,” he replied, slowly swirling in his swivel chair like a levitating Jedi. “Between shots, it was surreal, in a way, because the terrain was so alien, you know? And sitting with Sir Alec Guinness over there — pinch me — as a robot with his head off was smoking… I mean, it was just odd.”

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He continued, “[Star Wars] was disparate parts of cowboy movies, pirate movies, World War II movies, and swashbuckling and all that — everything old is new again, and George put so many elements into it that were recognizable to film fans. You know, certainly, for someone who grew up on Famous Monsters magazine and Ray Harryhausen, I just couldn’t believe how much fun we were having doing it.” image

Ding! When Hamill brought up Famous Monsters and Harryhausen, my eyes lit up. Our conversation had just taken on a whole new level of understanding. He had reached out with that secret geek handshake acknowledging that in actuality he was just like me: an overgrown Monster Kid raised on B-movies, classic horror, and the cult of Forrest J Ackerman. I gained a whole new level of respect for him, and this was years before I ended up as editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland. We were on the same page.

Hamill kept going. He recalled the experience of making his Sci-Fi classic as simply one in which he and his co-stars would just laugh non-stop. “I mean, how could you not? With a Wookiee sitting next to a knighted actor, you know?” he said with a chuckle. “It was just too much. And I thought, ‘This thing, even if it bombs big time, it’ll be a cult movie at midnight [movie theaters],’ you know? So I didn’t count on us making two sequels. But that first one was just too much fun to describe.”

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Of course, Hamill would go on to return to the franchise three years later for THE FORCE AWAKENS and then THE LAST JEDI — and hopefully STAR WARS: EPISODE IX. We have spoken several times since then, both in interviews for ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT and then, full circle, for Famous Monsters. Go figure…

Get more of my STAR WARS memories of the Kenner toys in STAR WARS Early Bird Kit Nostalgia and more with my STAR WARS May the Fourth musings.

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‘Star Wars’ and the End of Famous Monsters

STAR WARS changed the landscape of popular culture in 1977 for better and, arguably, for worse. Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine founding father Forrest J Ackerman was always a huge fan of science fiction. He was the man who coined the term “Sci-Fi.” He loved STAR WARS with all of his heart and welcomed it to Famous Monsters with open arms, despite Famous Monsters being a name synonymous with horror (close observers know full well, however, that the magazine always embraced myriad films within the science-fiction and fantasy genres, from METROPOLIS and WAR OF THE WORLDS to the original FLASH GORDON and every single Ray Harryhausen project).

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But that enthusiastic FM welcome mat for STAR WARS also pretty much enabled the blockbuster and an entire accompanying space-fantasy genre to steamroll over classic horror. FM’s focus, at least where the covers were concerned,  shifted to entice kids who wanted to escape to a galaxy far, far away, not to a cobwebbed castle. Wonderful painted covers of horror icons on FM would make way for studio-distributed photograph covers featuring Darth Vader, THE BLACK HOLE, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA Cylons, and Ridley Scott’s ALIEN.

Many would argue that Famous Monsters would never really quite recover from that seismic shift in young fans’ appetites. Classic horror would essentially climb back into the grave and watch from the shadows as Sci-Fi and the slasher genre, kickstarted by John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN and the FRIDAY THE 13th franchise, would take center stage, opening the door for competing magazines Starlog and Fangoria. Famous Monsters folded in 1983 after 25 years and 191 issues because tastes had changed. It would lay dormant for several years before returning to newsstands again.

With that history in mind, and in honor of STAR WARS DAY, I’ve assembled a bunch of fun STAR WARS-themed covers of Famous Monsters, classic and contemporary, for your viewing pleasure. In my opinion, the painted ones are still the best.

Get more fun STAR WARS-related IT CAME FROM… blog posts here and here.

Get more cool Famous Monsters posts here and here, plus more great Famous Monsters cover art here.

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Happy Star Wars Day!

It’s May the Fourth, which means STAR WARS DAY for many of us in the nerd world. This year’s celebration is that much more poignant because George Lucas’ 1977 phenomenon celebrates the 40th anniversary of its release on May 25. How are you celebrating?

40th-tall-2.jpgIt’s amazing to me that after all these decades STAR WARS is more popular than ever. Excitement over the franchise has always spiked when a new film is released. But it’s hard for today’s younger generation of fans to fully appreciate how massive a phenomenon the movie truly was when it first came out in 1977. It’s through no fault of their own; for them, it feels like STAR WARS has always been there.

I love the below photo of fans crowding Hollywood’s Mann’s Chinese Theatre in ’77 because it provides a real sense of what the frenzy was like when the film first caught the public’s attention. When STAR WARS first hit, it was huge. People went nuts over STAR WARS. It really was as crazy as people said it was. Trust me. I was there.

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I’ve been writing about the STAR WARS movies for years. This week I shared a sense of my personal excitement about STAR WARS in a nostalgia piece about Kenner’s STAR WARS action figures and their infamous Early Bird Kit.

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Today, I’ve picked out a pair of STAR WARS pieces (links below) that I assembled for ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT a couple years ago — both for STAR WARS Day — that provide some interesting insight into both the Original Trilogy and the Prequel Trilogy. One of the perks of working at ET was the unlimited access I had to the show’s “vault” of three decades of raw video footage, from junkets and premieres to set visits. I was like a kid in a candy store unearthing material that never made it to air, and the cuts I assembled reflect footage that had never been seen before by the public prior to my posting them on ETonline:

  1. MEET THE MAN BEHIND C-3PO: A vintage 1997 ET interview with the man behind C-3PO, Anthony Daniels, in which he reveals set secrets and a few of his less-than-glamorous moments acting in that unwieldy costume.

  2.  A STAR WARS PREQUELS FLASHBACK: Vintage late-’90s ET interviews with Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Liam Neeson, little Jake Lloyd, Hayden Christiansen and even George Lucas himself as they reveal Star Wars secrets, talk lightsabers and Darth Vader — and confront their action-figure likenesses.

I hope you enjoy them. May the Force be with you!

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‘Star Wars’ Early Bird Kit Nostalgia

The other day, I was overcome by a wave of nostalgia as I was perusing the shelves of my local toy store. I had to reclaim a lost piece of my childhood. I just couldn’t help it.

In honor of May 4, aka STAR WARS Day, I treated myself to Hasbro’s amazing STAR WARS Black 40th anniversary “Legacy Pack,” a semi-reproduction of Kenner’s infamous Early Bird Kit with the same art and a similar display platform. This new incarnation also includes a 6-inch Darth Vader figure in special throwback Kenner packaging. Very cool.

So why does this mean so much to me?

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For those not in the know about the origins of the Early Bird Kit, when STAR WARS came out on May 25, 1977, the Kenner toy company was caught off-guard. George Lucas’ Sci-Fi fantasy was beyond an instant hit — it was a bonafide box-office phenomenon. Kenner, who had licensed the tie-in line after Mego passed it up, was unprepared to meet the explosive demand for STAR WARS toys. In fact, they were in a panic because they would not be able to accommodate legions of ravenous children by the most important shopping period of the year: Christmastime. Thus, the Early Bird Certificate Package — or Early Bird Kit — was born; basically, a promise in the form of cardboard sleeve from Kenner to kids: Anyone who bought this colorful placeholder item with pictures of the planned STAR WARS action figures would be the first to receive four of them in the mail once they were ready in early 1978. Stickers and a “Space Club” fan club membership card were thrown in for good measure, and the rest is STAR WARS history. Pure genius.

 

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The Original Kenner STAR WARS Early Bird Kit

 

 

I never had the Early Bird Kit, but I always wanted it. Like most kids, I patiently waited for the figures to arrive in stores. Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 10.11.10 PMBy then, STAR WARS fervor was beyond fever pitch; it was still killing it at the box office and I had seen the movie easily 7 or 8 times (a conservative number compared to many of my friends). I had gotten my hands on pretty much anything that had the movie’s logo on it, plus a few notable STAR WARS knockoffs, like my “Space Sword” stand-in lightsaber (which had championed many a battle against Darth Vader, aka my older sister). I had THE STAR WARS SKETCHBOOK and had leafed through issue after issue of Famous Monsters and Starlog to get every ounce of information about the film that I could. And I had seriously worn down the grooves of my John Williams double-disc STAR WARS soundtrack and THE STORY OF STAR WARS, complete with music, sound effects and narration.

I had all but forgotten that the Kenner STAR WARS action figures were still on their way. Then, the good news came.

I remember the day distinctly: My buddy Billy and I heard from his neighbor Mike that the Kenner figures were finally available — and at our toy store! We freaked out. I ran home, tripped up to my room, and grabbed my Marie’s Dressing jar packed with quarters, nickels, dimes, and pennies. There was the loud echo-patter of Keds slapping on pavement as we raced on foot to the store a few miles down the road. Yes, we ran the entire way, and I was praying that the toys would still be there — and that I wouldn’t drop my jar and splatter my life’s savings all over the sidewalk. Luckily, once we arrived, a good selection of figures hadn’t been snatched up yet. With the approximately $10 in change that I had, I chose Han Solo, Chewbacca, Darth Vader, and the Stormtrooper; two good guys and two bad guys. I still have ’em.

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Cut to present day: We’re all on the precipice of the 40th anniversary of the release of STAR WARS, the film that changed my life for the better. Exclusive commemorative items are starting to flood stores. I’m trying to be super selective about what I consume, but seeing that Hasbro reproduction of the Early Bird Kit hit me right in the “feels.”

I had to have it. So I plunked down $39.99 with the rationale that I’m buying a plus-sized version of a lost piece of my childhood.

The Legacy Pack comes with an interlocking, tiered peg-stand to display all 12 first-wave figures, along with a double-sided cardboard backdrop that allows you to choose either the classic figure line-up illustration, or an X-wing vs. T.I.E. fighter action shot. Although the cash-hemorrhaging concept is to collect all of the brand-new, repackaged STAR WARS Black 40th anniversary edition 6-inch figures for the Hasbro version of the Early Bird display, there’s one glaring problem. Yes, it’s an expensive proposition. But more importantly, I don’t want to crack open the awesome throwback blister-on-card packaging to put them on display! Couldn’t they have created better access packaging (like Diamond Select‘s Retro Cloth Mego recreations) so collectors can have it both ways?

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My solution: I put my vintage 3 3/4-inch figures — the ones I played with when I was a kid and still have — on display in front of the new Early Bird packaging (see photo below). Now, my STAR WARS Early Bird Kit nostalgia is front and center as I get to display all 12 original figures just for my inner child. Plus, my wallet is overjoyed.

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Of course, when my vintage figures are not on display, I keep my collection in my original Kenner STAR WARS mini-action figure collector’s case. It’s the only logical place to keep them safe and sound. Right?

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For the record: In addition to about 24 original figures from the STAR WARS and EMPIRES TRIKES BACK collections (I was too old for “dolls” once the RETURN OF THE JEDI tie-ins came out), I still have the remains of my Death Star playset, Landspeeder, X-wing, Cantina playset, and Hoth playsets.

What’s my collection worth? Probably not much. They’re well-worn from countless imaginary adventures in a galaxy far, far away. I’ve never tried to sell ’em, and I never would. They’re priceless to me.

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‘Star Crash’ Crush

Sure, I knew that STAR CRASH was bad. But in the post-STAR WARS universe of 1978, anything with robots, spaceships, laser blasts and light swords looked cool, even though it was an obvious ripoff. Back then, we were all transformed by George Lucas’ masterpiece, and kids were hungry for anything that resembled STAR WARS. Still, I remember that there was something strange about STAR CRASH. It looked a little off, and it wasn’t until years later that I figured out that “a little off” meant low budget.

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It had been eons since I’d watched the film, even for kicks. But after revisiting it through the filter of the new MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 on Netflix, I’ve come to realize that STAR CRASH (or STARCRASH, or STARCRASH: THE ADVENTURES OF STELLA STAR) gloriously transcends the craptastic.0ce535c906b1817e8e4009eb400ba375

It really is fun in a PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE-by-way-of-Roger Corman kind of manner. It’s so goofy and completely stuck in the ’60s that every arbitrary moment, every line of awful dialogue, every curly male perm and Loverboy leather motorcycle suit, every hijacked BARBARELLA costume, every bad guy cape and helmet — it all feels like a precursor to SPACEBALLS. Every clunky Harryhausen-style stop-motion creature/robot stumble, every boxy/bumpy starship design, every “ray gun” they carry — it all exudes the charm of hardworking craftspersons behind the scenes who really tried to make a good movie, but were simply incapable of pulling it off, each armed with a $99 department budget and a misguided lack of imagination.

Even the film’s score by the ever-reliable John Barry feels completely out of place. Thinking back on this interstellar misfire, you know you’ve got a problem if kids walk out of a space action movie and it never even occurs to them to seek out an action figure or die-cast spaceship from the film. I sure didn’t. Still, STAR CRASH has an epic poster, with a crouched Stella Star ready for action. Upon closer examination, she does not look at all like Caroline Munro; more like Pamela Sue Martin from TV’s NANCY DREW MYSTERIES (how’s that nod for you, ’70s TV addicts?).

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I used to have a huge crush on Caroline Munro. Aside from STAR CRASH, she melted my pre-teen heart as the sexiest homicidal chopper pilot ever to wink and gun for 007. She made that already stunning Lotus Esprit mountain chase in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME even more memorable — an added touch of flirtatious danger to a bravura action sequence.

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Prior to that ’77 Bond flick — the first I ever saw in the theater with my dad — Munro got my primal juices flowing as the slave girl Margiana in 1973’s THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD, which I first watched on television. I loved that exotic ARABIAN NIGHTS-inspired outfit — and the fact that she saved Sinbad’s life with a timely reveal of her well-placed eye tattoo. On her palm, fellas. Remember?

2b3f4c35965a80951d635141bf4a78df.jpgCaroline Munro stirred my young imagination in a bunch of genre films in the ’70s, from Hammer Horror films such as DRACULA A.D. 1972 and CAPTAIN KRONOS – VAMPIRE HUNTER to the presciently steampunk AT THE EARTH’S CORE (which also gets skewered in the new MST3K). An interesting side note: Munro was offered the role of the villainous Ursa in Richard Donner’s SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE and SUPERMAN II, but turned the role down to appear in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME. The scheduling conflict gave way to Sarah Douglas to own the part of the Kryptonian villainess. But that sure would’ve been cool to see Munro strut her stuff alongside General Zod, don’t you think?

star-crash.jpgI’ll return to more Caroline Munro musings at a later date. There’s plenty to talk about. Until then, I have a very important question: What exactly is going on in this picture of her with Richard Kiel, aka Jaws in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME? Discuss…

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For the Love of Fantasy and Ray Harryhausen

As a lifetime lover of the cinema, I can pinpoint only a handful of moviegoing experiences in which the film itself truly changed my perspective and I found myself exiting the theater not only exhilarated — but practically a different person.

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For much of my generation STAR WARS was that experience. That film not only entertained but transcended legions of people who decided there and then that making movies would become their dream vocation. I was most definitely one of those people. But before that, THE 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD was the big-screen experience that rocked my world. Already a huge fan of dinosaurs and such classic Universal Monsters movies as DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN, THE WOLF MAN, and CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, my mom took me to see a revival screening of the 1958 film featuring Ray Harryhausen’s magical, stop-motion special effects in “Dynamation.”

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I was entranced by Ray’s incredibly believable creatures and immediately set out to find as many films featuring his work as I could. I wanted to see more SINBAD films. I made the connection to Harryhausen’s previous work, having already seen THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH and MIGHTY JOE YOUNG. I spent many a Saturday afternoon watching more of Ray’s greatest hits on our small, black-and-white television. FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND 118.PDF-000I couldn’t believe my luck when I’d be flipping around the dial and I’d catch the spectacle of a giant octopus tearing down the Golden Gate Bridge in IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA, the desperate fight with a killer crab in MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, the insect-like aliens of FIRST MEN IN THE MOON, or a dino rampage in ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. or THE VALLEY OF GWANGI.

Seeing Ray’s work and amazing creations in THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD provided the impetus for me to pick up my first issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland. I was very taken with the Cyclops in 7TH VOYAGE and couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the cover of FM #118 on the newsstand and there was Ray’s one-eyed creature staring right back at me, inviting me to find out more about the compelling cinematic experience I couldn’t stop thinking about.

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When I was older and had seemingly “seen it all” with the STAR WARS special-effects renaissance, a first-run viewing of CLASH OF THE TITANS took me right back to the wonder of the first time I joined the Cult of Harryhausen, notably with Ray’s stop-motion pièce de résistance: Perseus’ epic battle with Medusa, with shadowy close-ups of the Gorgon that were influenced by Joan Crawford in MILDRED PIERCE, and a moment that sees Medusa pulling her torso along that was influenced by Tod Browning’s FREAKS.

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I credit my adult obsession with multiple-armed religious icons to that spectacular scene in THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD in which the intrepid adventurer and his men battle a statue of the six-armed goddess Kali. As a kid growing up in suburban New York, I had never seen such an exotic statue like that before, and then to see it dance by the command of a sorcerer — and then sprout six swords to engage in combat — simply blew my mind. Now I can’t stop collecting exotic statuettes with four arms or more.

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I can confidently say that in the new era of impressive CGI achievements that have become commonplace in every blockbuster made in Hollywood today, Ray’s work — crude by today’s effects standards — is exponentially more likable and tangible onscreen than the CGI-overload travesties on regular display. Contemporary visual effects remain cold and impersonal for the most part, and in comparison, Ray’s finest moments represent the literal human touch lacking in today’s Sci-Fi and fantasy films. Ray earned the sense of wonder he set out to achieve. He cared about his creatures, and so do we.

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If you’re a fan of the late Ray Harryhausen, please take the opportunity to introduce someone new to his greatest hits with your own custom Saturday matinee. Keep his cinematic legacy alive, and share the true artistry and wide-eyed wonder that brought real magic to the movies in his heyday.

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Thrill at These ‘Empire Strikes Back’ Lobby Cards from 1981

The arrival of THE LAST JEDI on the big screen conjures up deep emotional feelings of nostalgia in me that are hard to suppress. After I first saw the end credits of RETURN OF THE JEDI roll by in the summer of 1983, I knew in my heart that STAR WARS was done; that this wonderful chapter of cinematic joy in my life was over. After all, a beleaguered George Lucas had said at the time that he was taking a long, indefinite break from his brainchild, despite offering up the promise of potentially making nine STAR WARS movies. dlvaushuiaasvoxWe all know what happened in the interim with the prequels and various animated series and incessant merchandising, but I never truly believed over the course of the last three decades that my human heroes from The Original Trilogy — Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia — would ever return to continue their adventures.

So when Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012 and a new trilogy of STAR WARS films was announced along with a steady stream of spinoff films, I had to pinch myself that it was all happening again with the Original Trilogy trio for THE FORCE AWAKENS. Given the overwhelming success of that entry, its follow-up, THE LAST JEDI, promises a lot more screen time with Mark Hamill as an elder Luke Skywalker — and has an obvious fan-perceived correlation to 1981’s THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK: Darker, deeper, and potentially superior; a film that builds on top of the previous premise-establishing tale to do more world-building and to put our beloved heroes in even greater jeopardy. The tone and approach of EMPIRE has always been the benchmark comparison for the first sequels of many a Sci-Fi franchise, and though it’s essentially an apples-to-oranges comparison, THE LAST JEDI still has a lot to live up to.

In short, I’m super excited to see how this new STAR WARS movie stacks up to the rest. And in the process, I’m taking many walks down memory lane in a galaxy far, far away.

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Looking back, it’s hard to believe that a full three years went by before we got a theatrical follow-up to the first STAR WARS (which mutated into STAR WARS: EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE, complete with an unnecessary makeover two decades later), but to this day I’m grateful that we had so much time to mine our own imaginations for the further adventures of Luke Skywalker and friends before the saga got seriously deep and then, conversely, a little too cartoonish. The wild storylines in the Marvel Comics adaptation of STAR WARS and such novels such as SPLINTER OF THE MIND’S EYE and HAN SOLO AT STAR’S END (not to mention countless hours listening to the records and playing with the Kenner toys) helped guide us, but it was still up to a generation of fertile minds to fill in the gaps until we’d see our friends again on the frigid wastelands of the ice planet Hoth.

On May 21 in 1980 I waited in line with my pals to catch a matinee of EMPIRE. Like so many, I was absolutely blown away by everything that I saw onscreen. Blown. Away. 25182476_550633438609829_1200066666033466379_oAnd then we stayed for a second viewing to watch from the front row, solidifying the life-changing experience. That unexpected cliffhanger ending was killer, of course, and we were faced with another three-year wait to see what would happen next, kind of like our own frozen hibernation hell in carbonite. I’m glad the stretch between main STAR WARS movies is at least down to two years now, with the spinoffs proposed to be released every other year to fill in the gaps. Too much? It remains to be seen…

As I revisit my 12-year-old mindset in anticipation of THE LAST JEDI, I’ve assembled a healthy handful of almost 30 original EMPIRE STRIKES BACK lobby cards, a few in German and French thrown in for good measure, to help you stoke the fires of your own nostalgia. Enjoy!

 

 

A little background info on lobby cards I like to regularly share for context: Back in the days before the Internet, movie lobby cards were a powerful tool used by Hollywood studios to lure audiences into the darkened theater. CXV5XakW8AEbxcA.jpgThey were the last line of enticement — and sometimes the first — alongside carpet-bombing consumers with coming attractions, movie posters, marquees, publicity stunts, movie program books, and newspaper advertisements for their newest big-screen sensation. With no entertainment websites or blogs available to tease audiences with stills from their films, lobby cards served that purpose for the studio publicity machine. These days, movie theater lobbies have eschewed the traditional lobby card for posters, standees, trailers on repeat, experiential activations and more.

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The Incredible Alternate Possibilities of Spielberg’s ‘Close Encounters’

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND made a huge impact on me when I saw it as an impressionable nine-year-old way back in November of 1977. Four decades later, on the anniversary of the Oscar winner’s November 16 theatrical debut, I can’t stop thinking about it.close_encounters_richard_dreyfuss.jpgThe film touched a nerve deep inside of me, not unlike that of Roy Neary after his personal encounter with mysterious extraterrestrials. I became obsessed. I saw it multiple times in the theater. I talked with my friends about it daily. I drew pictures and storyboards of aliens, spaceships, and flying saucers. I carved lines in my mashed potatoes at dinner. I wanted to see a U.F.O. for real. I wanted to know for a fact that We Are Not AloneDHKOaFjUwAEolXK.jpg

But since friendly invaders weren’t going out of their way to tap on my bedroom window and whisk me away to another world in 1977, I had to be satisfied with whatever merchandise I could get my hands on: The Marvel comic-book adaptation; the film’s Fotonovel; Bob Balaban’s CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND DIARY, repeated listens to John Williams’ brilliant soundtrack and Meco’s disco version on 45.

I soaked up all the details I could get my hands on and became somewhat of a know-it-all expert at 10 years old. Now, a lifetime later, I get to supplement all those studied factoids with Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Ultimate Visual History (written by Michael Klastorin for HarperCollins), the new behind-the-scenes companion book out just in time for the film’s 40th anniversary.

It’s full of material I’ve never seen before, including compelling concept art, amazing set photos, storyboards, script notes, trade paper clippings, memos, and correspondence. It also collects a number of narratives that paint a much broader context of what it was like to make the film compared to Bob Balaban’s singular CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND DIARY recollections published in 1978. 81KXvkBG-vL

In the new book’s foreword by Steven Spielberg, the writer/director says that the seeds of the film were planted when his father took him as a boy to watch the Perseid meteor shower. He also explains that the project remains one of his most personal: “The idea that we are not alone — the hope that we are not alone — is a theme I’ve returned to in several films since [the release of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS], some frightening, some gentle. But the optimism of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS will always remain close to my heart.” f2d7a4ebf2589a60a409f244bd255440--steven-spielberg-close-encountersSome interesting nuggets of information about the making of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS and what could have been, taken from THE ULTIMATE VISUAL HISTORY:

  • The character of Roy Neary, played by Richard Dreyfuss, was originally named Norman Greenhouse.
  • Spielberg hoped to have Steve McQueen play the part of Greenhouse, but the star turned it down because he did not want to cry on camera. The director also pursued Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, and Jack Nicholson. As the character evolved into an “everyman” type of character, Dreyfuss became the logical choice.
  • In the second draft of the screenplay, there is an active UFO-watcher group known as SPIWGOAH: The Society for the People Interested in What’s Going On Around Here.
  • In a deleted scene, Roy Neary tries to make sense of the shape of a Jell-O mold at a neighborhood block party (between fascination with the looming mountain shape of mashed potatoes, shaving cream, and a pillow).
  • The iconic Devil’s Tower location in Wyoming was originally a fictional location scripted as “Wamsutter Mountain” and Spielberg briefly considered using Monument Valley, but passed on it since he knew that cinematic landscape belonged to legendary director John Ford.
  • Also before the Devil’s Tower location was chosen, Spielberg initially envisioned having the Mothership land in a small town between two fast-food restaurants, but dismissed the idea after production designer Joe Alves mocked up the shot.
  • An Air Force character in an early draft of the script was named Major Benchley after JAWS author Peter Benchley.
  • In order to elicit natural, organic responses of concern and curiosity from little Cary Guffey who played Barry, Spielberg dressed two crew members as a clown and a gorilla.
  • To create the memorable “Five Notes” motif used throughout the film, John Williams wrote several hundred combinations. He found it difficult because, “Seven notes is a melody, and three notes is just for the doorbell ring … five notes is somewhere in between.”

Many people don’t take the time to consider how many ideas are first set on paper before being totally revised, eliminated, morphed, added later, or expanded in the filmmaking process. Where CLOSE ENCOUNTERS is concerned, there are some incredible, alternate possibilities to say the least.

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Spielberg and his alien friends: An interior spread from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND: THE ULTIMATE VISUAL HISTORY

You can read more of my CLOSE ENCOUNTERS musings HERE along with a collection of original, vintage Lobby Cards from the film.

You can also purchase Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Ultimate Visual History and then shop to your heart’s content for other things on Amazon (like Collectible Toys) while contributing a few shekels towards the upkeep of IT CAME FROM…

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Giving a Damn About ‘Damnation Alley’

 

DAMNATION ALLEY is one of those movies that was much, much better in concept than in execution. Released in theaters 40 years ago in October, the super-’70s flick had a cool title, a killer poster, a score by Jerry Goldsmith, a cast that included George Peppard, Jan-Michael Vincent, Paul Winfield, Jackie Earle Haley, and Dominique Sanda — and the ultimate post-apocalyptic survival vehicle: The Landmaster.damnation-alley-featured.jpgIt capitalized on cold-war fears that nuclear armageddon was right around the corner, and what we’d be left with would be a radioactive wasteland, plagued by bizarre weather patterns and populated by mutated insects and deadly scavengers.g34.jpgThe film also had a gimmick: Like BATTLESTAR GALACTICA’s limited 1978 theatrical run that was released in “Sensurround,” DAMNATION ALLEY boasted a big-screen release bathed in “Sound 360” — basically full-range stereo speakers turned up to 11 to envelop the viewer and make the seats vibrate (a technique also used for the release of DAMIEN: OMEN II).damnation-alley-lobby-card-5.jpgBased on Roger Zelazny’s book of the same name, DAMNATION ALLEY had a formidable budget of $17 million and was directed by Jack Smight, coming off such notable films as MIDWAY, AIRPORT 1975, and THE ILLUSTRATED MAN. All the pieces were there. It was going to be a huge hit for 20th Century Fox.DamnationAlleyBut despite all that street cred, DAMNATION ALLEY was a dud. It’s a rambling film full of fits and starts and half-baked action. Most of the special effects that were added in post-production — real “giant” scorpions superimposed on the sand dunes after the eight-foot props couldn’t cut it; real hissing cockroaches mixed in when the rubber ones fell flat; and an overly chroma-keyed apocalyptic sky — delayed the release considerably and cheesed up the look of the film, offsetting its impressive budget. And coming out five months after Fox’s other Sci-Fi gamble-turned-sleeper-phenomenon, STAR WARS, poor DAMNATION ALLEY never had a chance.damnation-alley-vehicle1I still love the idea of DAMNATION ALLEY, and in this day and age of renewed MAD MAX mania, I think the concept is ripe for a remake. The Landmaster remains one of the coolest movie vehicles made — a rugged, armored tank-like hulk with machine guns and missiles along with amphibious capabilities. An epic, post-apocalyptic flick needs a stalwart vehicle, and an updated version of The Landmaster could get me into a darkened theater simply to see it in action. Remember the days when tricked-out vehicles were the real stars of the films and TV shows they were featured in? The Batmobile, KITT, 007’s Aston Martin or Lotus Esprit, The General Lee, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Herbie the Love Bug? The time has come to bring those back.tumblr_lpob7yRcom1qzr8nao1_1280Incidentally, I used to drive by The Landmaster when it was parked behind bars at a custom auto body shop in Hollywood, CA on Cahuenga Blvd. Next to it sat a futuristic silver hovercar that resembled the one from TV’s LOGAN’S RUN. It thrilled me to think that the hugely famous (in my mind) Landmaster was just sitting there on the side of the road in plain view for everyone to see. I was privileged to get to see it every day because I was in the know. It also saddened me, because it looked like the once mighty Landmaster and its unlikely hovercraft sidekick were simply discarded, waiting for one more hurrah while the cameras rolled. Sadly, The Landmaster’s last well-known appearance was in an extended cameo on an episode of Chris Elliott’s early ’90s comedy GET A LIFE.  **Sigh.**

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Then see more cool vintage Lobby Cards from the likes of PLANET OF THE APES, JAWS, STAR WARS, ALIEN, and THE PHANTOM MONSTER SHOW, or read my ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT-related tales and interviews,  movie reviewsFamous Monsters-related pieces, and more!

 

 

Awww, Chick! Vintage ‘Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein’ Lobby Cards

My favorite classic horror film to watch in the days leading up to Halloween is actually not a horror film at all, but a comedy: ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN.

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The 1948 film remains a hugely popular watch among the Monster Kid crowd and horror movie aficionados, primarily because it prominently features not only Frankenstein’s Monster (played by Glenn Strange, not Boris Karloff as many mistakenly believe), but Dracula (Bela Lugosi, returning to the role that made him famous one last time) and The Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr. also returning for one more growl in arguably his most famous role, though he was a versatile horror star playing The Mummy, Frankenstein’s Monster, and Dracula too!) — and a cameo by The Invisible Man (voiced by Vincent Price).

Chick: I know there’s no such person as Dracula. You know there’s no such person as Dracula.

Wilbur: But does Dracula know it?

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ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN is like a Monster Kid gateway drug to more classic monster movies of the golden age. So many people who have seen it were inspired to seek out the original, more serious film foundations of the characters featured in the flick, not to mention the many sequels and match-ups that came afterward.

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I first saw the film during a Saturday matinee at my local library, which would show movies for kids on a (somewhat) big screen with a 16mm projector back in the ’70s. Other matinee movies I remember seeing there included 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, YELLOW SUBMARINE, THE ISLAND AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD, and a bunch of HERBIE movies. I was lucky that my parents found a place to dump me on Saturday afternoons while they did errands or what have you, as I have extremely fond memories of this experience.

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Already being a monster movie fan who consumed as many creatures as possible in books and in Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine between catching them on TV, it was a rare treat to get to see a creature feature on the big screen for me. So when, to my surprise, I saw that this movie had more than just Frankenstein, I was elated. Abbott & Costello made the perfect foils for these supernatural antagonists, resulting in a potent combination of fright and funny; the comic timing of the duo is impeccable in this film, and most of the jokes and sight gags remain pretty timeless.

1948_AbbotCostello_img7.jpgI love how silly it is to watch The Wolf Man almost get his prey each and every time, but he just misses because he hesitates too long for heightened effect. I love the way all of the women in the film swoon over Costello’s Wilbur character, simply befuddling Abbott’s Chick to no end. I love it when Wilbur unwittingly sits on the Frankenstein’s Monster’s lap, and then later tries to get his attention by calling him, “Junior. Oh, Junior!” I love when Costello breaks the fourth wall after yanking a tablecloth to impersonate Dracula to remind us that everything on the table is still standing. I love every minute of this movie.

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Larry Talbot: I know you’ll think I’m crazy, but in a half-an-hour the moon will rise and I’ll turn into a wolf.

Wilbur: You and 20 million other guys!

Of all the ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET… monster movies — ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET THE MUMMY, ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE, ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET THE KILLER, BORIS KARLOFF, and ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET THE INVISIBLE MAN, which is more of a boxing comedy than a monster movie — I love ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN the most. Watching it every year is an absolute requirement for me, and I’m fortunate to have a family who feels just the way I do and is game to make a Saturday afternoon matinee of it every October.

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Enjoy these vintage, colorized lobby cards promoting the 1948 film:

A little background info on lobby cards I like to regularly share for context:abbott_and_costello-frankenstein.jpg

Back in the days before the Internet, movie lobby cards were a powerful tool used by Hollywood studios to lure audiences into the darkened theater. They were the last line of enticement — and sometimes the first — alongside carpet-bombing consumers with coming attractions, movie posters, marquees, publicity stunts, movie program books, and newspaper advertisements for their newest big-screen sensation. With no entertainment websites or blogs available to tease audiences with stills from their films, lobby cards served that purpose for the studio publicity machine. These days, movie theater lobbies have eschewed the traditional lobby card for posters, standees, trailers on repeat, experiential activations and more.

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You made it to the end of the article. Sweet! Please take a moment to “like” IT CAME FROM… on Facebook and “follow” on Instagram and on Twitter for more great retro content.

Then see more cool vintage Lobby Cards from the likes of PLANET OF THE APES, JAWS, STAR WARS, ALIEN, and THE PHANTOM MONSTER SHOW, or read my ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT-related tales and interviews,  movie reviewsFamous Monsters-related pieces, and more cool vintage movie lobby cards.

 

 

More Human Than Human: Vintage ‘Blade Runner’ Lobby Cards

It’s been a surreal couple of years as far as entertainment goes, witnessing the return of some of my favorite heroes and heroines of decades past returning for another round on the big and small screen — in TWIN PEAKS, X-FILES, STAR WARS, and now BLADE RUNNER, to name just a few.geoverit-585x3291.jpgWhoever nudged Harrison Ford a few years back and told him he was being too grumpy about Han Solo, Rick Deckard, and Indiana Jones, I give them serious thanks, because he’s clearly gone out of his way to cater to fan demands with revisits to all of these beloved characters (even though no one was pleased that he got his wish to kill off Han Solo). Still, as much as I appreciated the miracle that the creative team behind BLADE RUNNER 2049 pulled off to deliver a satisfying, visually sumptuous sequel, I find myself going back to Ridley Scott’s 1982 original with more and more appreciation (which I already had plenty of). It truly is a remarkable film. An absolute cinematic classic. tumblr_o3ljycFEqr1t3tnxbo5_1280For those not in the know: Based on Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP?, the original BLADE RUNNER starred Ford as a retired Los Angeles detective in 2019 (the future!!!) tasked with tracking down a quartet of Replicants — perfect androids practically indistinguishable from humans — who are illegally on Earth seeking to meet their maker and extend their expiration date. Scott and screenwriter Hampton Fancher, who also wrote the 2049 sequel, originally conceived of their 1982 project as the first in a series of films incorporating the themes and characters featured in Dick’s groundbreaking novel, and I’m all for it given how well 2049 turned out. Here’s hoping that BLADE RUNNER 2049 recoups enough of its investment that they’ll make another one. Until then, like tears in rain, we’ll all just have to work on our unicorn origami at a noodle bar.b453c6cb45729635a85383a0f7558758--dragon-noodles-noodle-bar.jpgAnd In the meantime, here are a variety of vintage BLADE RUNNER lobby cards from 1982, in both English and Spanish, to ogle:

 

A little background info on lobby cards I like to regularly share for context:

Ford-blade-runner-2Back in the days before the Internet, movie lobby cards were a powerful tool used by Hollywood studios to lure audiences into the darkened theater. They were the last line of enticement — and sometimes the first — alongside carpet-bombing consumers with coming attractions, movie posters, marquees, publicity stunts, movie program books, and newspaper advertisements for their newest big-screen sensation. With no entertainment websites or blogs available to tease audiences with stills from their films, lobby cards served that purpose for the studio publicity machine. These days, movie theater lobbies have eschewed the traditional lobby card for posters, standees, trailers on repeat, experiential activations and more.

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You made it to the end of the article. Sweet! Please take a moment to “like” IT CAME FROM… on Facebook and “follow” on Instagram and on Twitter for more great retro content.

Then read more about BLADE RUNNER, or my ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT-related tales and interviews,  movie reviewsFamous Monsters-related pieces, and more cool vintage movie lobby cards.

 

The Man Who Brought Bond, the Beatles & More to the Movies

640_David_Picker_Beatles_131003.jpgWho’s that man posing with the Beatles? He’s the Hollywood producer who signed the Fab Four to star in A HARD DAY’S NIGHT before they touched down in America for the first time. He’s also the guy who launched the James Bond movie franchise by giving the green light to make DR. NO, then saved it by luring Sean Connery back for one more movie. He also discovered the likes of Steve Martin and Woody Allen on the stand-up circuit and started their movie careers.mitchell-hooks-b-1923-dr-no-1962-eon-united-artists-british-james-bond-postersMany movers and shakers in the entertainment industry are hidden in the fine print and not seen in the spotlight, but legendary producer David Picker stepped out with his intriguing memoir –  MUSTS, MAYBES, AND NEVERS: A BOOK ABOUT THE MOVIES. I interviewed him during my ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT days and I was so enthralled by his amazing Hollywood tales that I thought it was time to revisit our lengthy chat. 51kxh1I9ClL.jpg

“I’ve been a very lucky guy,” said Picker. “I wound up in a situation where I was able to work with the whole spectrum of talent, from the best to not the best of my time. … It was an amazing run.”

The grandson of the co-founder of the Loews Theater Group, Picker got his start as a producer at United Artists in Hollywood, then became president of Paramount Pictures and later Columbia Pictures, greenlighting and guiding some of the greatest films of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s.

“I was in a unique position because [at United Artists], the company that I spent most of my time with, our goal was to make available to independent filmmakers the ability to make the projects that they cared most about, as opposed to the major studios, where you were bound to all sorts of ground rules [and expectations].”

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At UA he was responsible for such films as MIDNIGHT COWBOY, TOM JONES, LAST TANGO IN PARIS, LENNY, and HELP! along with recruiting legendary filmmakers Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman, Francois Truffaut, Louis Malle and Sergio Leone. At Paramount, he shepherded such classics as SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, GREASE, HEAVEN CAN WAIT, CHEECH AND CHONG’S UP IN SMOKE, and ORDINARY PEOPLE. At Lorimar, he was responsible for such films as AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN, BEING THERE, ESCAPE TO VICTORY and S.O.B. At Columbia, his fingerprints are all over PUNCHLINE, HOPE AND GLORY, and THE LAST EMPEROR. As an independent producer, he made the Steve Martin/Carl Reiner-directed THE JERK, DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID, and THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS, plus BEAT STREET and THE CRUCIBLE with Daniel Day-Lewis, among others. On the TV side, he set up ARLI$$ and such miniseries as P.T. BARNUM and THE TEMPTATIONS.movie-poster.jpgOf capturing the Beatles before they broke out, Picker explained, “Through sheer good luck, we wound up having a three-picture deal with this group. We made a low-budget movie deal with a rock group because we thought they were kind of good … but they hadn’t broken beyond their local market [in Liverpool]. … [After they became a sensation in London], I walked into my boss’s office and said, ‘Guess what? We’ve got the Beatles.’ … Now the question is, what do you do with them?”

Picker takes credit for having the idea of matching up the band with filmmaker Richard Lester to create their first legendary film in 1964: “I honestly believe A HARD DAY’S NIGHT would not have been made had I not seen this short [by Richard Lester] called THE RUNNING JUMPING STANDING STILL. … It was a marriage of two talents, Dick Lester and the Beatles, who had a vision and made it work.”scan-14-jpg.jpgAs for Bond, Picker was an avid fan of Ian Fleming’s work and tried to get the ball rolling with Alfred Hitchcock directing a 007 adaptation, but Fleming didn’t like movies and didn’t want his creation ruined onscreen. Later, the author changed his tune and gave Cubby Broccolli and Harry Saltzman the option to produce his novels. Their $1.1 million budget request was turned down by their regular studio, Columbia, as being too high, so they went to United Artists and Picker, who gave them the green light for 1962’s DR. NO.

9127741gjt“My vision of it and their vision of it was exactly the same,” said Picker of the 007 films, adding with another laugh, “Everybody got rich off it but me.”

Sean Connery was cast as James Bond, and the rest is history. But after five Bond outings, each one doing bigger and bigger box office, Connery was feeling unappreciated by Broccoli and Saltzman, who would renegotiate their deals for more money — but never gave the actor his just rewards for becoming the face of the franchise. Connery left the series after 1967’s YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, and was replaced by George Lazenby in ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE, “Which lays an egg,” said Picker matter-of-factly. “Sadly enough, the Lazenby film was a disaster, and probably there wouldn’t be any more Bond movies” if Picker hadn’t brokered a deal with Connery for a king’s ransom – and a deal to make any two other movies of his choice — to bring him back for one more picture, 1971’s DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER.8bb6022533d16762d90dd64f472c243b--sean-connery-james-bond-movie-wallpapers.jpg“Sean realized he could trust us, came back, did the one movie, and saved the series,” said Picker, who adds, “One of the terms of his deal was that he would not have to talk to the producers. It’s laughable, but on the other hand, he was deeply offended and he had every right to be because they treated him like shit.” Connery subsequently gave his $1.25 million salary entirely to The Scottish Educational Trust Fund. He added, “Sean is famous for being cranky; I’ve never experienced it, he’s never been anything but cordial, but he was heard to say that the only movie executive he’d ever liked was me.”

For every huge success there’s also failure — and in Hollywood, there’s plenty of failure to go around. While Picker details in his book what went wrong with such films as LEAP OF FAITH with Steve Martin, LEONARD PART 6 with Bill Cosby, and the adaptation of the epic James Michener novel HAWAII, he also lists a couple doozies that slipped through his fingers. Movies that crossed his desk that he saw potential in, but turned down or just couldn’t get approved for various reasons, include STAR WARS, THE LORD OF THE RINGS, BONNIE AND CLYDE, THE GRADUATE and PLANET OF THE APES.Original Cinema Quad Poster - Movie Film Posters

“We made a lot of good movies and we made a lot of bad movies and made a lot of disappointing movies because that’s the nature of the beast,” he said with a laugh. “I remember the bad ones – I financed a bunch. … There are no guarantees in life; it’s kind of fun when they work, and I don’t care what you say, it hurts when they don’t. It really does. There’s just as much hard work in a bad one as a good one.”

Picker concluded of his career, “The thing that I treasure the most are those movies that I honestly think might never have seen the screen had I not believed in the combination of talent and content.”

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Sean Young on ‘Blade Runner,’ Career Bumps

With the surprise return of Sean Young’s Rachael in BLADE RUNNER 2049, I thought it was time to revisit my August 2013 ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT interview with the enthusiastic and candid actor, who was promoting her new indie horror film JUG FACE.

She was more than happy to wax nostalgic about BLADE RUNNER, DUNE, her bad luck detour from Tim Burton’s BATMAN, working with the likes of Harrison Ford and Ridley Scott, and ire over how she has been treated by Hollywood over the decades. It’s a compelling interview, if you ask me. Give it a read:

In the early ’80s, Sean Young’s big-screen career rise was meteoric, jumping from a bit role opposite Bill Murray in the army comedy Stripes to starring with Harrison Ford in the sci-fi classic Blade Runner — and then raising pulses with a steamy back-seat sex scene with Kevin Costner in a limo in No Way Out. But after a career lull in the ’90s and various off-screen antics that turned her into a tabloid target, Young is back on the big screen and ready to show that she’s here to stay in the haunting backwoods supernatural drama Jug Face.

The story of a pregnant teen (Lauren Ashley Carter) looking to escape her small town because she fears she’ll be sacrificed to a mysterious pit that kills in exchange for keeping the community safe, Jug Face casts Young as Loriss, the girl’s mother who is intent on keeping her a virgin so that her naughty behavior doesn’t upset the balance.

“I don’t ever watch any horror pictures, but I’m a fan of this picture,” the 53-year-old Young tells ETonline. “It’s almost like The Village by M. Night Shyamalan. But it’s a lot less like a horror picture in a sense than some horror pictures, because [the horror here is] implied a lot of time.” Loriss pretty much has her own catch phrase – “the pit wants what it wants” – and Young points out that although her character is definitely not the most pleasant or glamorous, “I like playing characters that nobody would suspect me to play, and I think I’m pretty versatile that way.” She adds, “I did tell [director Chad Crawford Kinkle] that I wasn’t thrilled with the fact that the makeup people made me look so old and ugly.”

While keeping busy in a number of indie films over the years, Young decided to jump-start her career in the last decade with the reality TV route, appearing onCelebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, Skating with the Stars, and even appearing on the Late Show with David Letterman to declare her willingness to work, going so far as to spoof her “crazy Catwoman” persona (she was meant to star in 1989’s Batman as Vicki Vale until a broken arm derailed her opportunity; Kim Basinger ended up with the role and Young later made headlines when she tried to crash director Tim Burton’s office to audition as Catwoman in full regalia for 1992’s Batman Returns).

“I think the Baby Boomers are still holding something against me, and I don’t think it’s fair, but that’s what it is,” confesses Young. “I just rubbed them the wrong way at the wrong time in my career, and obviously I didn’t mean to, but then again I don’t suffer fools real easy either. I guess in a sense, they might have thought the David Letterman interview was me having hubris, you know? But I think it was just me saying, ‘Hey, I want to work, you know? C’mon! Lighten up!” … And so the Generation X, I think they in a sense are a generation that’s very inclusive, whereas I think the Baby Boomers are a generation that’s very exclusive. And so people who really want to work together and are willing to make those sacrifices, I think those are people who are always going to appreciate me.”

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Looking back on her time filming Blade Runner, in which Young plays Rachael, the beautiful Replicant who does not realize she is a robot, she recalls, “I thought we were doing something pretty unusual. I wasn’t really anything more than a newcomer at that time, so I had a lot of learning I was doing, so I didn’t know necessarily how unusual what we were doing was, but I did know it was a big deal because just the sets alone were like, ‘Holy cow!’ … It’s not likely you’ll ever see a movie of that scale again, unless you have somebody who just wants to spend their money on making movies and not worrying about the money, and that’s pretty much nobody. All the people that might have that kind of money, I don’t think they’re interested in the art of it, you know?”

seanyoung2.jpgYoung’s co-star Ford was returning to the sci-fi genre after Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark made him an international superstar. Asked whether he had his guard up or was very approachable while making the movie, she reminisces, “Harry’s like a guy’s guy. I think he has his guard up when it suits him, and at that time anyway he would be one of the guys with the drivers. … Harry was a big, tall, strong-guy manly man, and when he didn’t like something you knew it, and if he did like it you knew that as well. He had a great sense of humor, and he’d been in the business for quite a long time by then. He started in his twenties and he was 42 when we made [Blade Runner]. He’s a professional, he knows his stuff.”

She adds, “I never had the opportunity to become warm and fuzzy with Harry on the movie — I do remember when I first met him, I went into his trailer and there was an IV that had a little bag hanging down from it that Steven Spielberg had sent over as a joke.”

Of course, director Ridley Scott has announced that he’s now working on a new Blade Runner movie, and Young says, “I’d love to do that, and I’ve left several messages at his office, but I don’t know – everybody’s got their opinion.”

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She adds of Scott’s controversial return to Alien territory with Prometheus, “I am going to say this on the record: Why in the hell does Ridley Scott have Charlize Theron in that part instead of me? … It’s like she was bored out of her mind, you can see it, and it’s like oh my god! That would have been really good for me, right? It would have been a nod to people who like Blade Runner, it would have been like, ‘See, I’m using Sean again,’ right? Nah.”

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Moving on to David Lynch’s 1984 adaption Dune, in which Young played the Fremen love interest Chani opposite Kyle MachLachlan, Patrick Stewart and Sting, Young recalls that the deserts and Mexico City location were definitely a challenge: “It’s poor, it’s dirty and it’s rough, but it was a very unique experience, and we all stayed in the Zona Rosa Hotel there and it was just fantastic, and I think we were there for four months,” she says. “There were challenging aspects of course, like that Stillsuit — we would die in that thing — it was in the summer. Especially if you played a Fremen, every time they rolled the camera they would get a fan and throw dirt in your face. You would get home at night and it would take you an hour just to clean out your nose and ears. … It was very gross work. But what was great was that we would go out to eat after taking hours to clean up — we were all so exhausted that we would go out to eat and drink, you know, and that’s pretty much what everyone would do for four months. It was great. … My little YouTube [home movies] give you a feeling of what we were really doing.”

Reflecting on the various films on her resume, Young singles out the 1989 American remake of the French film Cousins, co-starring Ted Danson, William Petersen and Isabella Rossellini, as her personal favorite.

“It was very heart-warming picture, and I think the reason that it’s my favorite is because everybody had the best time making that movie in Vancouver,” she says. “Because I started at an early age when I was 18 or 19, what’s meaningful to me on a picture is … how well we honor each other. I really like it when actors treat each other well and with respect, and when directors treat me well. … In show business the highs are high and the lows are low, and I think that it’s been like that since the very beginning. … You can also apply that to life too — when you’re treated well it works and you enjoy going to work, and when you’re not, it’s not as fun. It’s not brain surgery or rocket science.”

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Then read more of my ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT-related tales and interviews,  BLADE RUNNER thoughtsmovie reviews, my Famous Monsters-related pieces, see cool vintage movie lobby cards, and much more.

Basil Gogos: The Passing of a Monster Art Legend

My heart is heavy with the news that legendary painter Basil Gogos has passed on.

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Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine owes a huge debt of gratitude to Gogos. His paintings of Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolf Man, King Kong, the Mummy, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and so many other creatures of classic horror helped define the genre magazine that meant so much to so many and arguably elevated the brand to iconic status back in the ‘60s.

Gogos’ dynamic renderings of Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Elsa Lanchester, Lon Chaney, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Vincent Price, Ingrid Pitt, Jonathan Frid, Zacherley and more were the first line of enticement to lure in Monster Kids to pick up the latest copy of Famous Monsters of Filmland. His subjects were often treated to high-contrast lighting, with striking colorings used at times to psychedelic effect, which resulted in haunting portraits of beautifully designed cinematic characters. Not only did Gogos transform his subject matter to high art, he transcended our perception of these sometimes scary, sometimes silly rubber-and-latex monsters to soulful, penetrating, misunderstood outcasts.BasilGogos.jpgAs the former Executive Editor of Famous Monsters, it was a pleasure to meet Basil and interview him for our special Forry Ackerman Centennial Tribute in 2016. I also got to work with him and his lovely partner Linda Touby, an established abstract artist herself. I was in the process of getting his paintings back on the covers of Famous Monsters with a combination of unseen previous works and potential new paintings. It was an exciting prospect that was unfortunately cut short by my having to reluctantly step away from Famous Monsters last fall. In retrospect, I wish I had been able to stay longer simply to have been able to put Basil Gogos back on an FM cover at least one more time.

 

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Basil Gogos with David Weiner at a recent Monsterpalooza event.

 

While Gogos is best known for his work for Famous Monsters, he also illustrated many a movie poster and pulp covers with non-monster material; nubile women, expressive manly men, fierce creatures, and world-war machinery lent color, story and action to such Men’s Adventure mags (covers and interiors) as Man’s Action, Man’s Conquest, Man’s Illustrated, Wildest West, Wildcat Adventures, and True Adventures. He also tackled covers for Screen Thrills IllustratedSpacemen, Creepy and Eerie magazine and a variety of paperback covers. Standout movie poster work included INFRA-MAN, NIGHT OF THE HOWLING BEAST, HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN, and the Charles Bronson flick RIDER ON THE RAIN — showing the muscle-bound star “at his brutal best”!

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Gogos’ work has been commissioned for FM-influenced rockers such as Rob Zombie, Misfits, and Electric Frankenstein. It’s appeared on U.S. postage stamps. In addition to album art, action settings and classic monsters, Gogos told me that he found fulfillment in depicting the human figure, horses, and abstract colorful paintings.

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I’ve reposted my 10 Questions with Basil Gogos interview from Famous Monsters #288 below to give readers a sense of how he worked with FM founders Forrest J Ackerman and James Warren and what mattered most to him. He was a class act all the way.

Basil Gogos may be gone, but his legacy lives on. Like the many cinematic subjects he captured on canvas, his work will remain immortal.

10 QUESTIONS WITH BASIL GOGOS

Famous Monsters: Were you a fan of horror films growing up? What were some of your favorites that helped to inspire your work and imagination?
Basil Gogos: 
No, I was not a fan growing up, not as a kid, but I became a fan. My favorites were Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, and THE THING.

FM. How did you come to paint for Famous Monsters magazine? Did you find them, or did they find you?
BG. 
I came to paint for Famous Monsters because Jim Warren asked me to do my first cover for FM, therefore they found me. My rep contacted me about a job and it had to be done in a psychedelic way. Not knowing what he meant, I did what I thought it meant. It turned out to be an iconic cover.

FM. What was your interaction like with Forry Ackerman and Jim Warren when it came to assignments and ideas?
BG. 
My interaction started with James Warren. He would ask for the cover, telling me which character he wanted. He would just say the character and leave the rest up to me. I would paint the cover and then give it to him. Forrest Ackerman came next. He would discuss what I did with James Warren without me, then they would get back to me with the next cover. They left the creative ideas up to me.

FM. Were there times when you were asked to fine-tune your paintings?
BG. 
I hardly ever was asked to do anything — change or touch up — to the finished cover paintings.

FM. You really captured the soul and horror of your subjects. What was your source material for these iconic paintings? Did you often get stills from Forry or the movie studios?
BG. 
I usually used black-and-white photographs that were given to me at times from Warren and Ackerman, but frequently found shots on my own from the studios. Sometimes I used more than one still, sometimes just one, but always black-and-white stills so I could use my own color. Other times I worked from sketches.

FM. Did you ever get to meet some of the famous faces that you painted?
BG. 
Unfortunately I didn’t meet many of the people I painted. Some had died before I painted them. I always wanted to meet Karloff, but never did. I did get to know both people who played the Creature; Ben Chapman and Ingrid Pitt became friends, and they are dearly missed.

FM. Is there one FM cover that you wish you could rework or redo entirely, perhaps due to a rushed deadline?
BG. 
I am happy with all my FM covers. I really never found time a constraint when I was doing them. I usually worked nights with coffee and peace and quiet.

FM. Among all the covers that you did for FM, which is your favorite and why?
BG. 
My very favorite is #56 — Karloff’s Frankenstein’s Monster. I was commissioned to paint him and he was very ill at the time. His death occurred when the painting was being finished, and it meant a lot to me.

FM. How did your success with FM ultimately affect your career trajectory?
BG. 
It gave me a chance to be free to express myself in my work. I worked on other magazine covers as time went on, as well as CDs and posters, but I always enjoyed doing FM covers.

FM. These days, what types of subjects give you the most fulfillment with your work?
BG. 
I have found fulfillment in painting and drawing the human figure, as well as horses and abstract colorful paintings. I always enjoy a challenge.

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Stephen King’s ‘IT’: The Flick Flack Movie Review

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WHAT’S THE DEAL: Stephen King‘s epic 1986 novel finally gets the big-screen treatment with a brand-new Pennywise the Clown terrorizing the children of Derry, Maine.

WHY SEE IT: Fans of King’s IT have no doubt watched the two-part 1990 miniseries version of the story that features a now-iconic turn by Tim Curry as Pennywise. While in my mind it would be an impossible feat to one-up Curry, the new version of Pennywise, played by Bill Skarsgard, has the advantage of an R-rated cinematic landscape and modern-day effects to unleash his full potential and scare the living shit out of you. And he does. In spades. While I was not initially a fan of his makeup and costume, I was more than thrilled by what MAMA director Andy Muschietti delivered in terms of haunted-house thrills and chills. This is a dark, creepy film with amazing production design and effects that takes its time to craft a proper feeling of dread for the film’s well-cast kids (Sophia Lillis is a standout as Beverly Marsh), who display good chemistry and inhabit the late ’80s for the most part as if they were in the ’50s. And those eyes. Watch those Pennywise eyes closely in this film…

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THE FLICK FLACK: Those who know King’s story are aware that it is told in two different time periods — the childhood and adulthood, 27 years later, of the “Losers Club.” While I admire the fact that the filmmakers chose to focus only on the childhood portion and formation of The Losers Club to tell a clean story (setting up a most definitely anticipated sequel), I feel that the story here loses a considerable amount of its impact by removing the adult elements of nostalgia, reunion, facing childhood fears, and the complications of age on longstanding friendships. My other issue with the film, while not considerable, is the turned-to-11 sound design. There were a few too many cheap jump scares that relied on a loud sound-effects sting to deliver audience frights. A more sparse audio at times would have served the film better where the scares are concerned; the “what if” is better served when the soundscape is not beating you over the head with “what is.”

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NOTABLE NOTES: The frilly clown costume that Pennywise sports was inspired by a variety of previous eras — the Renaissance, Medieval, Elizabethan, Victorian — to imply his immortality and the number of past time periods that he’s (or It’s) made the rounds in. Meanwhile, in Lilitz, PA, a prankster has been tying red balloons to sewer grates and the police have become quite annoyed with the incessant calls by locals who are wigged out by the possibility that a devious clown may be lurking about. Good times.

georgie.pngMORE INFO: www.warnerbros.com/it

 

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You made it to the end of the review! Good one. Now, please take a moment to “like” IT CAME FROM… on Facebook and “follow” on Instagram and on Twitter for more great retro content.

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Seth MacFarlane Interview: ‘The Orville’ Walks Line Between Comedy and Drama

Jack-of-all-trades FAMILY GUY creator and actor Seth MacFarlane finally gets to indulge his love of STAR TREK and Sci-Fi tropes with his very own TREK-inspired series, THE ORVILLE, debuting Sunday night on FOX.

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While the network is playing up MacFarlane’s patented one-liners and bathroom humor in their marketing material, the ORVILLE show creator told me that his one-hour show has more drama than you are being led to believe, and the trick is capturing that tonal balance between light and heavy — which may be a first for a Sci-Fi show of this kind.

“The thing I like that makes me feel good about the show — take the STAR TREK element aside — tonally, it’s hard for me to compare to anything else that’s been on the air,” MacFarlane explained to me at Comic-Con. “I don’t think a science-fiction show of this type that walks this line has been attempted before. Shows like M*A*S*H have walked that line between comedy and drama beautifully. If we can have that kind of balance that would be a major victory for us. But it’s hard. I think we’ve come pretty damn close, but it’s up to the audience to decide.”

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Chatting up THE ORVILLE with Seth MacFarlane and Adrianne Palicki. Don’t ask why Seth’s coffee says “Alex.” It was news to him too…

THE ORVILLE is not a parody of STAR TREK, but if there’s more than a passing resemblance to STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, its ships, aliens, and its all-encompassing Federation of Planets, it’s not unintentional. MacFarlane has long had a deep worship of all things TREK and even recruited veteran TNG producer Brannon Braga to be an executive producer for the show.

“There’s a lot of fun stuff; there’s a lot of really cool species, we’ve got really awesome-looking ships,” explained MacFarlane. “But at the core of it, it is about these people. You never want to get into the quandary where you have amazing-looking visuals and there’s nothing at the core.”

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Set 400 years in the future, THE ORVILLE finds MacFarlane as a Planetary Union officer named Ed Mercer who lands his dream assignment to command his own starship called, you guessed it, The U.S.S. Orville. But his enthusiasm is quickly doused when he’s forced to work with his ex-wife, Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki), who has been assigned to be his First Officer. As they travel through the stars with an eccentric crew of humans and aliens, comedy and drama ensues.

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Seemingly drawing inspiration from the likes of GALAXY QUEST and QUARK, it looks like THE ORVILLE may just find that delicate balance MacFarlane’s looking for if the audience does indeed give it a chance to breathe. MacFarlane sure is enthusiastic enough about the concept and clearly excited to play in the Sci-Fi sandbox.

“I went into this with such a deep love for this genre, it’s not hard for me to act like a guy who’s really excited to be on the bridge of a starship,” he says with a laugh. “It’s too much fun.”

THE ORVILLE airs Sunday nights at 8/7c on FOX.

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‘Twin Peaks’: The Flick Flack TV Review

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WHAT’S THE DEAL: That damn fine coffee you like is back 25 years later, as promised, and David Lynch spiked it with acid.

WHY SEE IT: Described as the “pure heroin version of David Lynch” by Showtime president David Nevins back in January, the world finally got to see the against-all-odds third season of TWIN PEAKS this summer, all 18 episodes of it, and it was a glorious fever dream of pure genius, experimental phantasm, narrative frustration — and a test of your own sanity. For all its naked flaws — and there were many — week in and week out TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN delivered the most audacious, unpredictable, challenging, and mind-blowing television I have ever seen in my life. Yes, it was that insane — and then some.

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THE TV FLICK FLACK: While you may have hoped that this third season of TWIN PEAKS would resemble the show that aired on ABC back in 1990-1991, anyone who really knows David Lynch and his oeuvre should have expected it to be an absolute mind fuck. Tonally, it’s a lot more of a companion piece to Lynch’s big-screen 1992 prequel TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME. And this time around, for every random, fleeting moment you get that toes the line of the kind of comedic quirk that the show pioneered two decades ago, you get an angry, disturbing, gritty, thought-provoking Lynchian gumbo of Dadaist terror and wonder, often divided by groan-inducing pacing that dares you to either commit 100% or exit with dismissive disappointment. Like Sherilyn Fenn’s Audrey Horne whines three-quarters of the way through THE RETURN, “I want to stay and I want to go. I want to do both,” arguably at least half of the people who saw season three all the way through felt the same way of this demanding television journey.

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My frustrations were directed at the many wasted opportunities Lynch and co-creator/co-writer Mark Frost had to develop new, intertwined storylines with their original characters given the fact that practically every actor came back to be part of the show. But for every bravura moment that involved Dale Cooper’s (a game Kyle MacLachlan) deadly doppelganger or the epic atomic birth of evil, there was a half-baked bucket of chum; I really wanted to see how the whole puzzle would fit together, but I’d marvel at all the time wasted with the available talent in the room, swirling in a narrative eddy with little to do.

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Rather than break these frustrations down moment by moment, suffice it to say that when all was said and done after 18 episodes, I was left wanting more — in a good but mixed-feeling way — and I was not disappointed that I invested my time and energy in TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN. However, I now lie awake at night wondering what could have been, wishing more questions were answered, and ultimately hankering for someone to make a three-hour “alternate cut” of the series as a single film that’s more in line with the tone of the ABC series.

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NOTABLE NOTES:  In revisiting the world of TWIN PEAKS and fabricating a whole new season 25 years later for his beloved characters, Lynch sought to capture the emotional tonality of the various storylines in order for his ideas to translate to the screen. The filmmaker told Variety back in May, “An idea holds everything, really, if you analyze it. It comes in a burst. An idea comes in, and if you stop and think about it, it has sound, it has image, it has a mood, and it even has an indication of wardrobe, and knowing a character, or the way they speak, the words they say. A whole bunch of things can come in an instant. … You pick up on the way they want to be. That’s what I always say, it’s like fish. You don’t make the fish, you catch the fish. It’s like, that idea existed before you caught it, so in some strange way, we human beings, we don’t really do anything. We just translate ideas. The ideas come along and you just translate them.”

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MORE INFO: www.sho.com/twin-peaks

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The Story Behind That Epic ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ Fan Film

Lots of kids are inspired to make their own version of a movie when they’re on a high walking out of a blockbuster on a hot summer day. But Chris Strompolos and Eric Zala and took their obsession much, much further after seeing RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK in 1981. The pair set out to remake the Steven Spielberg classic shot-for-shot — the entire thing — and it took years and years to complete. While making the bargain-basement film almost destroyed their friendship, the impressive project reached cult status and even caught the attention of Mr. Spielberg himself.

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Chris and Eric’s story made it to bookshelves with RAIDERS!: THE STORY OF THE GREATEST FAN FILM EVER MADE, written with Alan Eisenstock, and I got the opportunity to speak with the pair about their epic filmmaking adventure when I was at ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT. “It’s really something to meet your boyhood hero and find that you’ve chosen your heroes well, ” Eric told me about their meeting with Spielberg, describing the Hollywood legend as “warm and paternal” and detailing how they spent 45 minutes talking about “life and movies” with him before he treated them to some never-before-seen Raiders outtakes. “It was a real pinch-me moment.”

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The pair of former school kids from Mississippi first bonded on a school bus over the Marvel Super Special comic book adaptation of RAIDERS 800e0fba961ed55e9e3d8449795df615back in the early ’80s, and immediately began plotting how to meticulously relive the film on camera. “It was really born out of a role-playing fantasy, that I just wanted to play Indiana Jones,” said Chris, who took on the role of Indiana Jones. “It was always our goal from the very beginning to do the entire film.”

Eric took on the directing chores and played bad guy Belloq, while eccentric friend Jayson Lamb was enlisted to run the camera and work on the homemade special effects — some straight out of THE ANARCHIST’S COOKBOOK. Armed with a clunky, problematic Betamax video camera (and later a VHS camera), the film’s script from Walden Books, an illicit sound recording made in a movie theater, 602 individually drawn storyboards (“It took me the entire summer [to make them],” said Eric), wardrobe and props requested as gifts from their parents, specifically Indy’s signature whip and fedora (“Birthdays and Christmases became prop- and costume-acquiring opportunities,” said Eric) — and of course an unlimited imagination — the determined filmmakers coerced curious friends like a modern-day Tom and Huck to help realize their production.

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“Chris was the outgoing, gregarious guy; I was the skinny, geeky kid — total opposites on the surface,” said Eric. “He had the charisma to draw people in. I was sort of the disciplinarian to keep folks there. That was sort of the yin-yang of the friendship. … These differences made it work, but it was also a source of conflict.”

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The exhaustive project made them the best of friends and the worst of enemies, with conflict, parental intrusion, and elemental issues threatening to shut down the production over and over. Battling lens-fogging issues and camera breakdowns due to the Mississippi humidity, the boys set out each summer to lovingly recreate every special moment of RAIDERS, from the giant rolling boulder (made of fiberglass) to the fiery bar fight in Nepal (after almost burning down their basement, “We sort of learned to keep our parents in the dark,” said Eric), to Indy’s incredible truck fight with the Nazis (achieved by towing an engine-less truck that they found abandoned in the mud) and the face-melting grand finale (with swirling ghost effects achieved with the help of a water tank and the high-tech help of the local TV station’s editing equipment).

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“We didn’t really have a budget; we built stuff, found stuff, dug through our parents’ closets and Goodwill, Salvation Army, people throwing things away,” explained Chris, who estimated that the project cost them approximately $5,000 when all was said and done. “Lots of donated time, lots of donated energy, lots of people pitching in.”

Watch the trailer for the documentary about the making of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: THE ADAPTATION: https://youtu.be/C4UYBhDVm9k

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: THE ADAPTATION finally found its way to Spielberg courtesy of filmmaker Eli Roth (who got ahold of ragged copy from a friend) and, after watching it not once but twice, the legendary director sent both Chris and Eric personalized letters, calling their labor of love “hugely imaginative” and “very loving and detailed.” He said of their film, “To this day … still the best piece of flattery George [Lucas] and I have ever received.” Chris says that Spielberg told them that their film even “inspired” him, and added of their personal encounter with him, “He was warm and gracious and he’s continued to be supportive, year after year, of our movie.”

Now dads with their own families, Chris and Eric reunited to form their own production company called Rolling Boulder Films, naturally, writing scripts, optioning projects and producing films. And they finally got to film that one key scene that was missing from their production: The Flying Wing fist fight. VICE documented the duo’s final return to their lifelong project to film that spectacular scene, and you can watch the highlights HERE: https://youtu.be/3gV6QMj0fvQ

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‘Dave Made a Maze’: The Flick Flack Movie Review

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WHAT’S THE DEAL: A creative underachiever’s procrastination project in his living room turns out to be Tardis-like labyrinth where booby traps, comedy, and danger lurk around every corner for the friends who try to rescue him. Oh yeah, and there’s a bloodthirsty Minotaur.

WHY SEE IT: An interesting and creative premise for a film that is clearly a labor of love — kind of an indie comedy take on CUBE and LABYRINTH, with a touch of ALICE IN WONDERLAND and Terry Gilliam insanity thrown in for good measure — DAVE MADE A MAZE is an amusing diversion for fans of budget filmmaking who can appreciate a smirk-inducing comedy with a light touch of horror and fantasy.

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THE FLICK FLACK: Is DAVE MADE A MAZE a-MAZE-ing? The jury is still out, but I sure found it to be a fun watch. Though the opening minutes of the film gloss over the characters’ likely real-world responses to the supernatural oddity that is Dave’s Maze, I played along and was soon rewarded with a nice mixture of believable reactions and suspensions of disbelief. Overall, I was struck by the surprisingly thoughtful production design of this film and the filmmakers’ efforts to entertain with the use of puppetry, stop-motion animation, and other clever in-camera tricks.

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The Maze, a living entity, is of course a convoluted reflection of Dave’s (Nick Thune) mindset and the creative process, and it’s a fun deep dive. There are nice little movie references sprinkled about. It’s fun to see the little personalities of the various inanimate objects that come to life. The film plays with spacial visual relationships for the benefit of the viewer. And the ensemble cast (including Meera Rohit Kumbhani, Adam Busch, and Scott Krinsky) delivers engaging, grounded performances. I also loved the conceit of having a documentary filmmaker (James Urbaniak) trying to direct everyone’s reactions as they explored the maze and bumbled through booby traps. Still, I wish the film’s sense of humor was a little more fine-tuned and as thought-out as The Maze itself.

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NOTABLE NOTES: The result of a significant amount of dumpster diving to be sure, director Bill Watterson’s feature debut employed more than 30,000 square feet of cardboard — all scrapped and donated —to fabricate over 20 unique sets for the film. Inspired by ‘80s adventure films like THE GOONIES and LEGEND and the big-screen work of Jim Henson and Ray Harryhausen, the film has won a number of festival awards, including the Slamdance Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature.

MORE INFO: davemadeamaze.com

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Better Than Goofy Golf: Vintage ‘Close Encounters’ Lobby Cards

“They can fly rings around the moon, but were years ahead of ’em on the highway…”

November 16 marks the 40th anniversary of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, and I’m getting very excited that Steven Spielberg’s Sci-Fi masterpiece will once again get the attention it deserves.

Beginning September 1, the film will get a one-week release in theaters nationwide, using a remastered Director’s Cut in 4K for U.S. and Canadian theaters. The film will also screen at the Venice Film Festival in the “Venezia Classici” section. Watch the trailer for the 4K anniversary screening here:

By no means a small and forgotten film, one still can’t ignore the fact that Spielberg’s meditation on our first contact with beings from another world has gotten a lot less attention and conversation in the last decade or so. It’s simply not on the younger generation’s radar, the most obvious reason being that CLOSE ENCOUNTERS is not a franchise. There have not been any sequels, prequels, remakes, or spinoffs. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS remains undiluted** and I am grateful for it. It is one of my all-time favorites.

Tim-Jordan-Close-Encounters-of-The-Third-Kind-Poster-2015**Undiluted for the most part. The film’s SPECIAL EDITION release in 1980 added seven minutes of bonus footage that included a look inside the Alien Mother Ship, while trimming and deleting other scenes. Spielberg had always wanted to deliver a more polished film despite pressure from Columbia Pictures to deliver six months early, and got the chance to make a director’s cut after the film became a huge hit — with the caveat that he show the inside of the Mother Ship as a marketing hook. Still, he ultimately regretted showing the interior.

Close-Encounters-of-the-Third-Kind-Special-Edition.jpgI always loved the bonus footage of seeing the landlocked S.S. Cotopaxi boat discovery in the Gobi desert, but I personally think the original cut of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS remains superior by leaving the ending to your imagination. Spielberg returned to the film one more time to cut it again as the COLLECTOR’S EDITION, and in that one he kept elements of the 1980 SPECIAL EDITION, but wisely excised the climactic Mother Ship interior coda.

In anticipation of the return of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND on the big screen, here are some cool vintage Lobby Cards from both the original release and THE SPECIAL EDITION:

 

A little background info on lobby cards I like to regularly share for context: Back in the days before the Internet, movie lobby cards were a powerful tool used by CloseEncounters_108PyxurzHollywood studios to lure audiences into the darkened theater. They were the last line of enticement — and sometimes the first — alongside carpet-bombing consumers with coming attractions, movie posters, marquees, publicity stunts, movie program books, and newspaper advertisements for their newest big-screen sensation. With no entertainment websites or blogs available to tease audiences with stills from their films, lobby cards served that purpose for the studio publicity machine. These days, movie theater lobbies have eschewed the traditional lobby card for posters, standees, trailers on repeat, experiential activations and more.

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Will We Ever Get That ‘Goonies’ Sequel?

"Hey, you guys!" Will we ever get that much-talked about, long-awaited sequel to THE GOONIES? Does anyone still care?

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There has been much buzz over the years about a sequel to (or a reboot of) the beloved 1985 adventure that turned "Chunk" and "Sloth" into household heroes. A couple years ago, GOONIES director Richard Donner hinted that there was real momentum on the project after three decades of waiting around, and several of the original cast members, including Josh Brolin, Corey Feldman, and Sean Astin, have at one time or another expressed an interest in returning.

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I spoke with Astin not too long ago about the possibility of another go-around with the legendary pirate One-Eyed Willy, and he told me earnestly, yet with a bit of tongue in cheek, "It is a mortal lock – I would bet my children on it – that there will be a sequel. It may not be in my lifetime, but there will be a sequel because the public wants it so much and Steven [Spielberg], who's really the decision maker, wants it really badly."

Astin, Brolin, and Feldman were among the child stars searching for the legendary treasure of One-Eyed Willie in order to save their families' homes from foreclosure in the film written by Christopher Columbus, based on a story by Spielberg. Martha Plimpton, Kerri Green, Jeff Cohen, and INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM'sShort Round Ke Huy Quan rounded out the kiddie cast for the summer movie release.

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"Whether they want the sequel to be about the Goonies' kids, whether we're too old for it, it doesn't matter," continued Astin. "What matters is that [Spielberg and Donner] get to try and capture the magic again, because they love it and the public wants it. The fact that they haven't done it yet, I think, is a testament to them, because they haven't found the magic yet."

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Subsequent to that statement, Feldman declared in an interview with MovieWeb that he didn't think the film would be happening simply based on Donner's age. Donner has been the true driving force behind a new GOONIES movie happening at all, but the veteran director of THE OMEN, SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE, the LETHAL WEAPON franchise, and so many other fan favorites is no spring chicken. He's a spry 87 years old, and making a major motion picture at that age as a director may be too much of a burden at this stage in the game. He may just not be interested in taking it on in that capacity. Producing, however, is another matter that may be more manageable. And according to a Brolin, Spielberg does have a sequel script already written, sitting in a secret drawer somewhere.

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But Warner Bros. has made no official announcements, and while there is much hope and optimism among fans and the stars/filmmakers alike for another GOONIES movie, it just doesn't seem to be happening.

In a recent Reddit AMA, Plimpton let fans down gently by declaring, "I really wouldn't expect it. It's been teased for decades and I don't think it's going to happen. At least, as far as I know. I think Dick Donner, who is a brilliantly funny man, likes to torture us all with the prospect. I believe it's his revenge for having been tortured by all of us for six months in 1984."

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An interesting side note: I spoke with legendary movie poster artist Drew Struzan recently at a show of his Amblin work at Creature Features in Burbank, CA, and he brought to my attention that he was commissioned to do seven variations of his infamous GOONIES poster at the request of Steven Spielberg — each featuring one of the kid stars of the movie at the top — so they could each get their moment in the spotlight on the newspaper advertisements. Now that's a pretty cool thing to do!

(thanks to Posterwire for the variant art layout).

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‘Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets’: The Flick Flack Movie Review

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WHAT’S THE DEAL: Filmmaker Luc Besson returns to THE FIFTH ELEMENT territory with a visually stunning Sci-Fi adventure (based on the long-running French graphic-novel series VALERIAN AND LAURELINE) that tracks a 28th-century pair of lovers/special agents who must discover the secret behind a looming menace before it’s too late.

WHY SEE IT: If you loved the fun tone and inventive production design of Luc Besson’s 1997 fan-favorite THE FIFTH ELEMENT, it’s a treat to see the veteran director return to this genre sandbox with a fresh imagination and more CGI tools at his disposal. And if ever there was an excuse to see a movie on the big screen in 3D solely for the visual splendor of it all, this is pretty much it.

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THE FLICK FLACK: Alas, despite its fruitful inventiveness and vibrant color palette, VALERIAN suffers from George Lucas STAR WARS Prequel green-screen malaise; the substantive requirement of real people interacting with tangible creatures against real backgrounds to tell a convincing tale gets lost in the knowledge that we, as an audience, are watching actors who are clearly grounded on a soundstage and nowhere near the exotic locales being depicted in the final product. There are plenty of real-world props, backdrops, and set dressings in the film to play with, but they’re lost in the poly-blend of pixels and purity. Adding insult to injury, the leads of the film — Dane DeHaan as Valerian and Cara Delevingne as Laureline — sadly show little chemistry between each other, and their delivery of Besson’s stunted dialogue is surprisingly lackluster and uninspired. It really detracts from the overall experience, even if you want to check your brain at the door to witness this prime example of CGI overload.

NOTABLE NOTES: Luc Besson first entered my cinematic radar with the indie post-apocalyptic film LE DERNIER COMBAT and then secured my fandom early on with his amazing pair of underworld assassin films, LA FEMME NIKITA and LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL. VALERIAN first came to his attention as a possible film by way of the comic’s illustrator, Jean-Claude Mezieres, who was working on Besson’s THE FIFTH ELEMENT. But the technology to pull off such a visually stunning film was still years away, and it wasn’t until Besson saw James Cameron’s AVATAR that he realized anything was possible on film, with imagination the only limit.

MORE INFO: www.valerianmovie.com

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‘Atomic Blonde’: The Flick Flack Movie Review

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WHAT’S THE DEAL: Charlize Theron burns up the screen in JOHN WICK mode as a British super spy in this action-packed, East Berlin-set Cold War thriller.

WHY SEE IT: After commandeering MAD MAX: FURY ROAD into practically her own starring vehicle, Charlize clearly learned that action fans will buy her as an action heroine and are hungry for more. She’s tough as nails in ATOMIC BLONDE — reminiscent of Geena Davis’ turn in THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT — and there’s never a moment in the movie when you don’t believe she can capably destroy every man in the room. James McAvoy also delivers a frothy performance full of zest and zingers.

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THE FLICK FLACK: Other than the somewhat predictable outcome, there’s an approximation feel to the proceedings; stylistically and action-wise we’ve seen it all before, at times done better. But the thumping, nicely curated ’80s New Wave soundtrack helps mightily to redeem the tone and pacing. I’m a bit disappointed that Blondie’s ATOMIC (from a decade earlier) didn’t close out the film, though.

NOTABLE NOTES: The film is directed by former stuntman and JOHN WICK helmer (uncredited, though) David Leitch, so if some of the close-quarter action, killer staircase choreography, and head-shot CGI splatter looks familiar, now you know why. DEADPOOL 2 is Leitch’s next project.

MORE INFO: www.atomicblonde.com

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Why William Friedkin’s ‘Sorcerer’ was a ‘Ballbreaker’

Oscar-winning director William Friedkin’s SORCERER hit theaters 40 years ago this summer in the wake of the STAR WARS juggernaut, and so the timing could not have been worse for this thrilling, underrated jungle adventure that I have grown to love.

sorcerer-os-croppedA reworking of the 1953 French film THE WAGES OF FEAR based on Georges Arnaud’s novel LE SALAIRE DE LA PEUR, Friedkin’s SORCERER reunited the controversial EXORCIST director with his amiable THE FRENCH CONNECTION star Roy Scheider, himself white-hot off his starring turn in JAWS and a high-profile cameo in MARATHON MAN opposite Dustin Hoffman. The minimal cast was rounded out by Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal, and Amidou as a quartet of criminals from disparate backgrounds who team up to transport highly volatile nitroglycerin across 200 miles of the treacherous South American jungle for an American oil company.

 

53555669158726f16b740100_william-friedkin-sorcerer.jpgBecause of a seismic shift in audience appetites, SORCERER debuted in the summer of ’77 to mixed reviews and disappointing box office. In terms of mass appeal, the damage to SORCERER and other serious dramas and genres was inestimable as films like Friedkin’s were steamrolled by George Lucas’ rollicking Sci-Fi fantasy, which (along with Steven Spielberg’s JAWS) changed the rules of Hollywood and influenced the general public’s palate for big-screen entertainment.

 

I spoke with Friedkin when SORCERER was remastered for its Blu-ray debut, and the veteran filmmaker told me of the film’s initial reception, “It is what it is, and there’s no reason to question that or to fight that. Audiences get the films they want, and they go to them in vast, vast numbers, and in the old competition between fantasy and reality, fantasy wins hands down, because people do want to be entertained and not challenged.”

2012-blog-friedkin1.jpgIt took a full four years for Friedkin to follow-up his one-two punch delivery of THE FRENCH CONNECTION in 1971 and THE EXORCIST in 1973. Pressed to come up with the ideal follow-up to the indelible films that gave him Academy Award recognition, he kept returning to the idea of making his own adaptation of Arnaud’s 1950 novel and the 1953 film. “I was obsessed with [SORCERER] and driven to make it,” he said of the epic undertaking that was filmed in the Dominican Republic, Paris, Jerusalem, New Jersey, and Veracruz, Mexico.

salaire de la peur, Le (1953).jpg“I didn’t do it as a remake of WAGES OF FEAR, I did it as a new version,” he said of the film that takes place on multiple continents. “These characters were four strangers marooned in a desperate situation, hiding out from retribution, who had to either cooperate or die — and that seems to be the world’s condition today. All of these countries are strangers who don’t like each other. We don’t have the same philosophies. … But if we don’t all cooperate — like if the countries in the Middle East don’t make peace with Israel, they’ll all be destroyed — it’s mutually assured destruction, and that’s what SORCERER and WAGES OF FEAR are about.”

sorcerr77hd_04.jpgA straightforward thriller with no supernatural undertones, the film’s title was inspired by a Miles Davis album, and a knowing nod to THE EXORCIST. Interestingly enough, SORCERER’s working title was actually BALLBREAKER — and making the film turned out to be just that given the sprawling production locations, challenging resources, on-set conflicts, and some unrelenting weather conditions.

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Though he did not set out to directly remake WAGES, Friedkin went to lengths to explain to me why he thinks “remake” is not such a bad word in Hollywood: “There’s a wonderful production on Broadway … of WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF starring Tracy Letts. It’s a big smash hit, and not because it’s a remake — it’s another version. Anytime someone does a production of HAMLET it’s not a remake, it’s a new interpretation with different actors. … So I thought that WAGES OF FEAR could be reinterpreted for a modern audience because it dealt with certain truths.”

In today’s remake/reboot-obsessed Hollywood, I wondered what Friedkin would think of a remake of his own take on WAGES, and if he thought the film’s incredibly intense, signature swaying bridge stunt (which is featured on the film’s promotional posters) could ever be recreated in the same way again. “It would be done all CGI [today],” replied Friedkin matter-of-factly. “I had a great production designer named John Box who worked for [director] David Lean. … We came up together with a way of engineering that bridge so that it was safe, that it looked lethal, but was actually very safely constructed so there were no accidents — knock wood. But any time you attempt something like that, there’s always the unexpected.” Sorcerer-Truck-Bridge-1977.jpgExpanding on his take on remakes, Friedkin explained, “I know that films beget other films. I started out learning from other films. I never went to film school. I certainly borrowed ideas from them. I mean, I didn’t steal from them, but I was influenced by them, or they pushed certain buttons. … On the other hand, I think that there is a paucity of ideas today, and so [Hollywood goes] back to what worked before and, generally, they’re right — it works again because audiences love what’s familiar. They’re much less tolerant of something new. They’ll give a lot more space to something that’s familiar [compared] to something that challenges their expectations.”

 

Sorcerer-featured-1024x675SORCERER is a worthy film that stands the test of time four decades after it was released. Taut and crackling with tension with limited dialogue, it’s got a genuine sense of gritty reality in that inimitable ’70s filmmaking style. Friedkin’s overlooked masterpiece is a true nail-biter, and one can see simply by what’s onscreen why the working title was BALLBREAKER. They simply don’t make ’em like they used to…

 

 

Enjoy these SORCERER lobby cards, foreign and domestic:

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More Lobby Cards to ogle:

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Vintage ‘RoboCop’ Set-Visit Footage with a Quirky Peter Weller

“I’d buy that for a dollar!” Like many movie fans, Paul Verhoeven’s ROBOCOP took me completely by surprise when it was released 30 years ago this summer. The title alone was a turn-off for me and, not knowing a thing about the film, it simply looked silly.

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I paid attention to the reviews just to confirm my suspicions, and to my surprise, the film was getting not only positive reviews but widespread acclaim for its subversive, satirical nature and extra-clever sense of humor. I went to go see it, and ROBOCOP remains one of my all-time favorites.

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Set in a crime-ridden, near-future Detroit, the action-packed genre flick finds the mega-corporation OCP tasked with running the city’s police force. The powers that be introduce a new program with a prototype cyborg cop — using the remains of downed officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) – and crime quickly gets swept under the rug by the new “sheriff” in town. But soon Murphy discovers a conspiracy that leads to the highest levels of OCP, and bringing them down may threaten his second lease on life.

When I was at ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT, I unearthed some amazing behind-the-scenes footage on the set during the making of the film, complete with Peter Weller’s personal tour of the film’s set, his quirky sense of humor, and his candid reveal of how difficult it was to put on that unwieldy Robo-suit.

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“They work bloody hard; it takes them an hour-and-a-half to put me in this thing,” said Weller, best known at the time as the star of THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE 8th DIMENSION! “And then later on in the film, once I remove my helmet, I have a head that is shot, fixed, and computerized, a whole other design, and it takes four and a half hours to put on the head alone. It ain’t easy pal — it ain’t all dames and glamor if anybody asks.”

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In discussing his role, Weller makes a point to explain that the film is more than just an action picture and that RoboCop is more than just an action hero. “This part, to me, it’s a commercial, action, futuristic thriller on the face of it, but at the heart of it … is about the discovery of what it is to be human,” said Weller. “It’s not about a bionic man or bionic woman. It’s not about a human-looking thing with mechanics inside, it’s about a mechanical thing with a human inside. That’s the twist here. … As opposed to just a science-fiction action-thriller film, it’s the story of humanity inside; the morality tale.”

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Watch the great vintage footage of Peter Weller on the original ROBOCOP set that I assembled here:

http://players.brightcove.net/1242911076001/rkLHD3Uv_default/index.html?videoId=ref:title_123444&viewguid=6ad5108b-7635-4a9f-9d58-eeb22b2a1f17

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A quarter of a century later, I caught up with Weller on the red carpet of STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS to get his opinion on the then-upcoming ROBOCOP remake starring Joel Kinnaman in the title role. What was his take on the remake, and of remakes overall in a remake-frenzied Hollywood? His response was quite interesting…

“There should be a list of 25 movies you should not ever touch,” said Weller, calling the process “sinful.”

As for any possibility of returning to ROBOCOP himself in some way, he replied, “I’m done with ROBOCOP,” adding, “It’s anthropological; you can watch it in a hundred years and you can hearken back to say, ‘What was the political-socio-economic dynamic? What was the idea of commercialism? What was the beginnings of the age of information, ripping off identity? What was the story of identity theft?’ All that stuff is prescient to be written in 1981, filmed in 1985 or 86, and still lives.”

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As for that still-to-be-seen remake of ROBOCOP, he said diplomatically to the new cast and filmmakers, “Sorry guys, I wish you well — it’s going to be a hard movie to beat.”

“Your move, creep…” Needless to say, the 2014 ROBOCOP reboot did not fare nearly as well as the original did at the box office, nor did it spawn and sequels. The people have spoken…

 

Watch Peter Weller’s response to the ROBOCOP remake here: http://players.brightcove.net/1242911076001/rkLHD3Uv_default/index.html?videoId=ref:title_138409&viewguid=5e489c1c-3311-4f57-9f9d-65a634fc5add

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Then see more of my ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT-related tales and interviews,  Summer Music Recommendations, or there’s plenty of STAR WARS musingsFamous Monsters funcool vintage movie lobby cards, etc.

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Go Ape! with Primitive ‘Planet of the Apes’ Lobby Cards & More Mutant Memories

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES arrives in theaters this week, and I am extremely excited for this third entry in the rebooted APES series. iktgb7ef3vxy.jpgThe quality storytelling in both RISE and DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES unexpectedly raised the bar for the almost 50-year-old franchise, and a recent rewatch of DAWN reminded me of how these new films are packed with emotion and intelligence, making the onscreen stakes and conflicts that play out much more compelling.

In the capable hands of director Matt Reeves and motion-capture star Andy Serkis as Caesar, I’d gladly watch more new APES films by 20th Century Fox to see just where the narrative will take us and how closely it will skew to the original franchise storyline.

And, please, just give Andy Serkis an Oscar nomination already, if not a special award. The man who gave us Gollum is a pioneer in the mo-cap arena of special effects and his performances have consistently given heart and soul to every character he has portrayed, especially Caesar. Perhaps this year the Motion Picture Academy will recognize that CGI performances are more than just pixels; they’re people.

dawn-planet-apes-andy-serkis-caesar.jpgMy PLANET OF THE APES experience dates back to my childhood in the ’70s. Growing up in the suburbs of New York City, I used to watch THE 4:30 MOVIE weekdays on WABC Channel 7. The genre-film programming on this local station was stellar, with theme weeks dominating the line-up such as Monster Week, Vincent Price Week, Edgar Allen Poe Week, Sci-Fi Week, Lost World Week, and, of course, PLANET OF THE APES Week. planetoftheapes

 

THE 4:30 MOVIE had a 90-minute timeslot and so the films shown were often heavily edited. PLANET OF THE APES always got special treatment as a two-parter, while BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES, ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES, and CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES would fill out the other three days of Ape Week. BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES would usually be relegated to another theme week, like Sci-Fi Week, and play alongside such films as FANTASTIC VOYAGE and the similar Charlton Heston dystopian classics SOYLENT GREEN and THE OMEGA MAN. ezk4opy0v18f5tivr8c5

Ape Fever was strong in the early ’70s, and I was very much caught up in it. I read the Pierre Boulle novel and wondered why it was so different from the films. I watched the short-lived PLANET OF THE APES TV series first-run in 1974 and caught every episode of the Saturday morning animated cartoon series RETURN TO THE PLANET OF THE APES the following year. I owned several of the Mego eight-inch action figures, including Cornelius, Zira, Soldier Ape, Alan Verdon, and “Astronaut,” which really felt like a rehashed “Action Jackson” figure. POTAEMCEFirst4.jpg.w560h270I coveted the many other Mego APES playsets and accessories, like that awesome Apes Treehouse with the flip-action secret weapons bench and “Detention Pen,” and that Apes Fortress with the “Sun Reflector” at the top. I also wanted that Mattel Rapid-Fire Rifle with Ape Mask set that sat on the shelf at the toy store, beckoning, but my mom wasn’t too keen to see me running around with a gun and a horrid rubber mask.

**serious plot spoilers below for those folks who have never seen the original PLANET OF THE APES series**

Simply put, I’m a huge fan of the original APES films (save for BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, which always felt like an afterthought that never quite fit with the first four films in the series). Watched in order, APES, BENEATH, ESCAPE, and CONQUEST transported me into my first futuristic wasteland cinematically, left me gobsmacked when Taylor realized that he was on Earth and not some crazy Ape-run planet (“You maniacs! You blew it up! Aww, damn you! God damn you all to hell!”), and then ultimately delivered a narrative time-loop paradox that blew my kiddie mind when Roddy McDowall, as Caesar in the final burning frames of CONQUEST, promised “the birth of the Planet of the Apes!”

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As far as pure Sci-Fi goes, BENEATH remains my favorite of all APES films thanks to the post-apocalyptic New York underground setting, the telepathic mutants, their warped worship of a planet-killing bomb, and the generous screen time devoted to the beautiful Linda Harrison as Nova. The character of Nova was one of my earliest onscreen crushes and the fact that I got to see her continued storyline — as well as more time in that primitive, revealing costume — and shockingly hear her speak, sealed the deal for me.

ok-the-planet-of-the-apes-1.jpgI could go on and on about PLANET OF THE APES, but I’ll keep it brief. Given my appreciation of and minor obsession with Lobby Cards, I’ve assembled a batch from all five original PLANET OF THE APES films below, hailing from a few different countries. Enjoy!

A little background info on lobby cards I like to regularly share for context: Back in the days before the Internet, apebarbermonstersmovie lobby cards were a powerful tool used by Hollywood studios to lure audiences into the darkened theater. They were the last line of enticement — and sometimes the first — alongside carpet-bombing consumers with coming attractions, movie posters, marquees, publicity stunts, movie program books, and newspaper advertisements for their newest big-screen sensation. With no entertainment websites or blogs available to tease audiences with stills from their films, lobby cards served that purpose for the studio publicity machine. These days, movie theater lobbies have eschewed the traditional lobby card for posters, standees, trailers on repeat, experiential activations and more.

 

More Lobby Cards to ogle:

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Bond and B-E-Y-O-N-D: ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ Lobby Cards

THE SPY WHO LOVED ME premiered 40 years ago this summer. Roger Moore’s third outing as James Bond found the suave performer finding his stride as 007 in a film that would strive to be the biggest, most spectacular entry in the franchise yet. The Bond producers were always keen to top themselves, and they spared no expense to make it happen with globetrotting locations that ranged from Italy to Egypt and the Bahamas.

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THE SPY WHO LOVED ME was the first Bond film I saw on the big screen. My dad took me to see it, and it remains one of the most indelible moviegoing experiences of my life. Needless to say, I’ve been a huge Bond fan ever since and love every James Bond film, great and terrible, warts and all. And I still wish that I could have a Lotus Esprit capable of transforming into a submarine. Two years ago, I was lucky enough to catch the BOND IN MOTION exhibit at the London Film Museum and made my pilgrimage to, among many other amazing Bond vehicles, Wet Nellie herself. Here are a few detail shots below:

Interestingly, the producers of THE SPY WHO LOVED ME felt that marketing Moore as 007 — the character — meant that he should mention Bond’s exploits in every film, including those that headlined Sean Connery and George Lazenby, in the specific TV spots below. “Since we first met you’ve joined me on nine of my missions,” says Moore with his signature arched eyebrow as he addresses the camera directly. Make sure you watch to the last spot that showcases a collection of Bond girls by themselves, urging audiences to see the film. It’s pure gold for 007 enthusiasts. (video courtesy of Mi6-HQ.com)

Many Bond purists will say that THE SPY WHO LOVED ME is simply a retread of YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, with submarines being captured by the villain rather than space capsules in order to spark a world war. They are absolutely right. But what makes THE SPY WHO LOVED ME one of the best entries in the Bond franchise is the absolute bravado by the producers and filmmakers to push the envelope on stunts (that killer opening sequence with the ski jump free fall!), vehicles (the Lotus, the Wet Bike), and exotic locales — not to mention the best special effect of all: Roger Moore’s unflappable charisma.

Here are a few key lobby cards from THE SPY WHO LOVED ME. Enjoy!

A little background info on lobby cards I like to regularly share for context: Back in the days before the Internet, movie lobby cards were a powerful tool used by Hollywood studios to lure audiences into the darkened theater. They were the last line of enticement — and sometimes the first — alongside carpet-bombing consumers with coming attractions, movie posters, marquees, publicity stunts, movie program books, and newspaper advertisements for their newest big-screen sensation. With no entertainment websites or blogs available to tease audiences with stills from their films, lobby cards served that purpose for the studio publicity machine. These days, movie theater lobbies have eschewed the traditional lobby card for posters, standees, trailers on repeat, experiential activations and more.

More Lobby Cards to ogle:

More James Bond stories: 

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The Police: Censored in Their Prime?

A bit of explanation first: A few years ago when I was writing on a daily basis for ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT, I was also writing concurrently for the website of ET’s sister show, THE INSIDER. That site went down and with it, sadly, went a lot of my fun stories and interview pieces. Now, with the show itself ending its run this September after 13 years, I thought I’d salvage a few of my entries before they’re gone for good.

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One of the more enjoyable conversations I had during that time was with Dave Wakeling of The English Beat, who was promoting the band’s box set, THE COMPLEAT BEAT, by way of Shout! Factory. In talking about the ’80s Brit band’s rise and fall, we touched upon an interesting side note about their fellow contemporaries, The Police.

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In the early ’80s The Police rose to become the biggest band in the world on the strength of such tunes as “Roxanne,” “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” and “Every Breath You Take.” But according to Wakeling of The English Beat — who toured extensively with the trio comprised of Sting (whose real name is Gordon Sumner), Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland – the band was kept on “an incredibly short leash” and “banned” from speaking their minds by none other than Stewart’s manager brother, Miles Copeland III.

“Touring with The Police was an odd situation — they were ruled by fear by Miles Copeland,” Wakeling told me. “They were not allowed to speak their minds. They were heavily contained, and we felt very sad for them, really, because they did have ideas and opinions that they were banned from being able to say.”

 

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Miles Copeland in a recent photo

 

Wakeling worked with Miles Copeland and revealed the cryptic message behind Sting’s choice to sport The English Beat logo in one of The Police’s most famous videos:

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Sting sports his English Beat tee in the  “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” video

“I think that was one of the reasons that he went to such extremes to wear English Beat T-shirts, like in the  “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” video and photo sessions: He was trying to, like, bear allegiance to some of the things we were saying that he was not allowed to say by Miles Copeland.”

 

“It was really The Monkees of punk, you know? It was the Punkees: We’re too busy singing to sing about anything that’s really going on,” he continued. “And that was awful sad, because they were decent folks, especially Gordon.”

IRSLogo1.jpgMiles Copeland formed his own label, I.R.S. Records, through A&M Records in 1979 and signed artists that included R.E.M., The Go-Go’s, The Bangles and Gary Numan. Wakeling called the man “a wonderful rogue” and “fun, but exacerbating.” He added that Miles Copeland “wanted to be secretary of state.”

The Police were one of rock’s most successful bands, formed in 1977 and putting out five hit albums (Outlandos D’Amour, Reggatta de Blanc, Zenyatta Mondatta, Ghost in the Machine and Synchronicity) through 1984 before Sting set out on a solo career, essentially dissolving the band. Contemplating the output of The Police, Wakeling’s unique behind-the-scenes perspective saw the once-promising artistic trajectory of the band taking a turn for the worse due to such tight control, once again likening them to The Monkees.article-2507658-196B051700000578-988_964x1380.jpg

“They sort of eviscerated the end of punk, didn’t they, to make it like it was pure pop entertainment, which was a bloody shame. And they got away with it, which is even worse,” said Wakeling, whose own band rose at the same time from ska, reggae and punk roots. “Like the Monkees, [The Police] had some great tunes, but you knew they had a lot more to say, and we knew exactly how they were banned from saying it. They were on an incredibly short leash.”

He concluded, “This was about making millions of dollars as quickly as you could, which I thought was very sad, because I thought their art was worth more than that. I was very pleased when Sting went off on his own and managed to speak up a bit more, and I admired him for taking the chance when he could.”

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You made it to the end of the story! Good job. Now, please take a moment to “like” IT CAME FROM… on Facebook and “follow” on Instagram and on Twitter for more great retro content.

Then see more of my ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT-related tales and interviews,  Summer Music Recommendations, or there’s plenty of STAR WARS musingsFamous Monsters funcool vintage movie lobby cards, etc.

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