Stories seeking screens: Six books begging for film adaptations Part II

4. “Then We Came to the End” by Joshua Ferris

This, the award magnet debut novel of Joshua Ferris, is actually supposedly “in development.” So, maybe I’m wasting a good nomination. It has, however, been so categorized for a while, so I’m still putting here, near the top of my list.
No one knows us quite the same way as the men and women who sit beside us in department meetings and crowd the office refrigerator with their labeled yogurts. Every office is a family of sorts, and the ad agency Ferris depicts is a family at its worst and best, as the cast of colorful copywriters try to cope with a business downturn in the time-honored way – gossip, pranks, depression, desperation and increasingly frequent coffee breaks – while also trying to wrap their heads around a super strange, seemingly impossible job from an anonymous client.
The book is noteworthy for the author’s unique perspective choice: Ferris writes in the first-person plural — the collective “we” — making the snarky, gossipy, terrified employees into a kind of Greek Chorus and collective narrator.
As such, I think it would be a good idea to present the film as a series of short vignettes (think “Clerks” or “Coffee and Cigarettes”) with recurring characters but no main protagonist.
I’d like to see it cast with mostly unknowns and/or familiar character actors to heighten the reality of it all, and maybe shoot the work scenes in black and white and the exterior scenes in color, as such a large topic of the story is the separation of work and life.
Ideal director: Werner Herzog. Hear me out, okay? It’s been a while since the mad genius German picked up a camera for a non-documentary project, but I think this is the perfect candidate. Think about it: he loves quirky characters and he loves examining professionals in their element. Nothing makes Werner happier than surrounding himself with people weirder than himself. This book is chock-full of strange and poignant moments among characters everybody things they know so well, but actually turn out to only know “work well.” And it’s a wonderful look at an oft-misunderstood industry at a time of terrifying transition.

5. “Assault on Tony’s” by John O’Brien

If I could vote in some kind of pop culture election to determine the American author whose work most deserves a revival — the most overlooked American author, you might say — I’d cast my ballot for O’Brien immediately.
You may know his name from the award-winning film version of his first novel “Leaving Las Vegas,” starring Nicolas Cage (in a performance that earned him a Golden Globe and an Academy Award) and Elisabeth Shue. What you might not know is that the story of a suicidal alcoholic who travels to Las Vegas to “drink himself to death” was, sadly semi-autobiographical.
That book was published in 1990, the film made in 1995, and O’Brien ended a suicidal bender of his own with a self-inflicted gunshot in 1994, just two weeks after learning the movie was to be made.
His other works were published posthumously, including a short story in the Las Vegas edition of the popular Akashic Books noir series and three other novels, including “Assault on Tony’s.”
Barricaded in a bar called Tony’s while a race riot rages outside, the characters that people the story are united by their desire to drink to the end — no matter what the consequences. Social alliances are forged and challenged as each member of this macabre party ignores his fears and better judgment in favor maintaining a buzz and keeping their glass full. As time goes by and the liquor supply starts to dwindle, hard choices have to be made and nobody is safe.
A tense, claustrophobic tale of addiction and delusion, this book is at least as good as “Leaving Las Vegas,” and because of the themes of racial and economic tension, gender roles (the sole woman in the place, the waitress, is also the only sober one), addiction, and the philosophy of gun ownership (all the patrons are packing), more timely than ever.
Ideal director: Kathryn “Boom” Bigelow.

6. “Heart-Shaped Box” by Joe Hill

This is another one that’s supposedly “in development,” but has been stuck so long in “development hell” that I figured a little public show of support can only help.
This was the first novel from Hill (now a two-time Bram Stoker award winner), and his work lives up to the hype. This is horror for people who think they don’t like horror. It’s smart, it’s heartfelt, it’s scary without being overly gruesome and it’s fresh. I loved this book and it needs to be a movie.
The publication of this “beautifully textured, deliciously scary debut novel … was greeted with the sort of overwhelming critical acclaim that is rare for a work of skin-crawling supernatural terror. It was cited as a Best Book of the Year by Atlanta magazine, the Tampa Tribune, the St. Louis Post Dispatch, and the Village Voice, to name but a few. Award-winning, #1 New York Times bestselling Neil Gaiman of ‘The Sandman,’ ‘The Graveyard Book,’ and ‘Anansi Boys’ fame calls Joe Hill’s story of a jaded rock star haunted by a ghost he purchased on the internet, ‘relentless, gripping, powerful.” (Amazon.com).
Middle-aged rock star Judas Coyne collects morbid curios for fun, so doesn’t think twice about buying a suit advertised at an online auction site as haunted by its dead owner’s ghost. Only after it arrives does Judas discover that the suit belonged to Craddock McDermott, the stepfather of one of Coyne’s discarded groupies, and that the old man’s ghost is a malignant spirit determined to kill Judas in revenge for his stepdaughter’s suicide.
That’s not a totally fair description, as Coyne isn’t quite the sociopathic playboy nor McDermott the avenging dark angel they at first appear. Things are more complicated than that, but you won’t mind uncovering the truth because the story is so well paced and the characters vivid.
I read that Hill himself wanted Russell Crowe to be the has-been rocker, and I think that’s a great idea. As the demonic McDermott, I’d cast Lance Reddick or Eamonn Roderique Walker.
Ideal director: Mary Lambert, because she’s no stranger to heartfelt — but effective — horror (see “Pet Semetary”). 
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Praise the Zombie King and pass the ammunition – thanks for everything, Mr. Romero

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The recent passing of renowned filmmaker George A. Romero has been a strangely poignant event for me. I’m usually pretty indifferent to celebrity deaths, even those who I’m a fan of (Robin Williams aside, I was mess after that news broke). But this one’s nagging at me. I can’t help but feel we really did lose something important here.

I’ve been a fan of Romero’s work since I was a kid — and probably too young a kid, at that. I saw “Night of the Living Dead” at an inappropriately tender age and it terrified me in exactly the right way. I couldn’t get enough.

In elementary school, my friend Robbie and I used to organize the other kids into camps of “survivors” and “zombies” and play “Night of the Living Dead” at recess. He and I always ended up vying for the honor of being the Last Man Standing, trapped up in the little playhouse at the top of the slide, pointing invisible rifles down at the giggling swarm of pint-sized ghouls below and making shooting noises with our mouths as they strained to get at us.

They just wouldn’t stay dead.

That seems like a totally different world now — and I’m not even 30-years-old. Can you imagine a teacher’s reaction to that game today? But it was a different time, and you couldn’t find a more receptive location.

 I’m from Western Pennsylvania, you see. And I’ve walked the among the movie sets. I realized way back then, at the perfect time in my life: Oh, he did that here. They made that movie right here. Movies aren’t some crazy alien thing that come from faraway places. It happened right here in my boring little home town. Maybe I can do something like that too…

 

I’ve been to the “Dawn of the Dead” mall. I’ve been to the “Night” cemetery, twice. I actually met some of the cast at the Pittsburgh Comicon years ago. Mrs. Cooper is really nice, and so was little Karen, all grown up. I met the stars of “Dawn,” too. I’ve been to Fright Night at Station Square. I’ve met Tom Savini, and he’s as cool a guy as you think he’d be.

What Romero and company taught me is that I could write and create and do whatever I wanted wherever I was. Years before the so-called indie flick conquered Hollywood, and auteurs like Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino were crowned champions of the new, hip cinema, Romero and some plaid shirt-wearing, working class folks from Steel City picked up a camera and said, “Why not us?”

It’s a lesson I know that many took from the man. It may be a legacy greater than his having created the modern zombie. In fact, I think it’s probably the one he would prefer. Because Romero was a man ahead of his time. Watch “Martin.” Watch “The Crazies.” He saw today coming nearly half a century ago. But, of course, that’s not enough.

It’s like Merlin tells King Billy in Romero’s tragically under appreciated 1981 flick “Knightriders”:

“Some things is just sure to happen. Seeing ‘em comin’ ain’t nothing to get excited about.”

And the Zombie King knew that. He knew you have to write it down, point a camera at, let people know — let them know before it’s too late.

Romero knew the importance of having a fighting chance, and he understood, like King Billy himself said: “You taught me too good, magician. You taught me to believe. That black bird’s gonna get me.”

And, of course it is. It’s going to get us all in the end.

Romero knew that too. No thing is forever. He knew he wasn’t special; just another one for the fire, as it were.

But the work lives on. And so do the lessons.

Romero’s influence in the horror genre, filmmaking in general and American culture is only just now really getting the attention and respect it deserves. Across the internet, memorials have been written and shared. More are being written, I’m certain. I especially enjoyed Ignatiy Vishnevetsky’s piece for the AV Club’s “What Are You Watching?” – “The Rust Belt horror of George Romero.” Right on, man.

Tweets, posts and texts are being posted, sent and shared. New moviemakers are picking up cameras or sitting down to knock out a screenplay with images of Romero’s design in mind. That too will continue, and the great director’s legacy will rise again and again, down through the years, to shamble and stumble and lurch on into this strange new century and beyond, where we will surely need him, and those of his ilk, more than ever, ready and psyched for the chance to tear the guts out of everything you thought you knew.

This is just one more such tribute, just one man’s two cents on the subject.

Just another one for the fire.

Long may it burn.

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Stories seeking screens: Six books begging for film adaptations Part I

Nearly all of the most iconic American films came from great source material, popular long before they were ever forged into script form, let alone crafted in the minds of directors and cinematographers.
Plays, news accounts and, of course, books — fiction and non — are well-mined territory from which have sprung a bounty of bonafide Hollywood hits.
In today’s mixed bag world of big screen stock: prequels, sequels, shared universes and reboots/remakes/reimaginings, some say that Hollywood is simply out of ideas. Still others, however, say that the derivative dream machine simply gives us what we want. After all, even the most unnecessary “Transformers” sequel raked in big bucks, right?
So, it seems to me that what we need now is the best of both: an innovative story with proven appeal.
Hence we must turn, as ever, back to the books.
The following titles are my personal picks for movies best suited to cinematic adaptations. They offer cohesive narratives that would translate well to the screen, as well as interesting and weighty roles that would attract a big name cast, writer and director.
Also, by virtue of the original author’s other well known works, or just the book’s own success, we can be assured that the story already resonates with enough people to make adapting it a less risky venture — if done well, of course.
So dim the lights (not too much, think of your eyes), pop the popcorn and get ready to discover the best film you’ve never seen … yet.

1. “Swan Song” by Robert R. McCammon

A sprawling, epic post apocalyptic novel featuring a diverse cast of wonderfully realistic characters and awesomely engrossing action scenes? How is this not a movie — or series — yet?
The book (which shared the 1987 Bram Stoker award for best novel with Stephen King’s “Misery,” but is more often compared to his own hefty end-of-the-world tome “The Stand”) follows several characters as they struggle to survive the awful wake of a nuclear war which leaves nearly everything in America — and, presumably, the world — devastated.
Eventually those tales converge around Sue Wanda Prescott, aka Swan, a young woman who has an empathic ability with plants and can accelerate the growth of seemingly dead plant life, even in contaminated soil, through contact.
Her very presence, and the hope it inspires in the survivors, threatens to undermine the diabolical fun of The Man of Many Faces, a Satan-like agent of chaos set on killing off the last of the humans remaining (a role that’s crying out for Willem Dafoe), who allies himself with a makeshift army of killers led by a war hero-turned-would-be dictator (I’m thinking Woody Harrelson) to ensure her annihilation.
This one hits all the notes currently in vogue: a post apocalyptic setting, a diverse cast of characters, an intricate, complicated array of relationships that would translate well to a series of films — or episodes. Cast a buzz-worthy unknown as Swan, and this one can’t fail.
Ideal director: Peter “Lord of the Rings” Jackson. The man knows a thing or two about epic.

2. “Biggest Elvis” by  P. F. Kluge

This is an (to my mind) even better offering from the mind behind the ‘80s cult classic “Eddie and the Cruisers.”
Described as, “Part mystery, part love story, part mordant commentary on America’s waning presence worldwide,” the novel tells the story of a trio of Elvis impersonators working out of a club called Graceland in Olongapo, Philippines, a town close to Subic Naval Base, a former U.S. Navy installation which shuttered in the in the ‘90s.
In their act, Baby Elvis (who portrays the youthful Presley), Dude Elvis (who does the movie years) and Biggest Elvis (the oldest and fattest of the trio) reenact the King’s life in a kind of condensed musical biography/thematic concert to screaming fans every night.
Their popularity grows, among the locals and the military, in the tawdry, anything-goes town, and the already successful act becomes more than that, almost a religion.
But there are dark forces at work against the group, and all that showbiz money has attracted the wrong sort of attention. Is Biggest Elvis as doomed as the original?
A truly poignant commentary on American cultural imperialism and the perfect portrait of a long gone time and place, “Biggest Elvis” will translate practically effortlessly onto the big screen.
I’d like to see Matthew McConaughey pack on the pounds and portray the titular character, with Jared Leto getting my nod for the “Dude Elvis” role.
Ideal director: I want to say Quentin Tarantino, because of his obvious love of rockabilly shtick and the book’s dialogue, which is truly worthy of his attention, but the Q-man has proven to have little interest in adapting other people’s writing (“Jackie Brown” aside). Fair enough. So, I’m going with Paul Thomas Anderson instead.

3. “Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis” by Timothy Egan 

The true story of famed photographer Edward Curtis, as researched and recorded by award-winning journalist Timothy Egan, has garnered much praise — and justifiably so. It’s a book burning to be a biopic.
Curtis was charismatic, handsome, a passionate mountaineer and a famous portrait photographer, the so-called “Annie Leibovitz of his time.” He moved in rarefied circles, a friend to presidents, vaudeville stars, leading thinkers. But, when he was 32, in 1900, he gave it all up to pursue his great idea: to capture on film the continent’s original inhabitants before the old ways disappeared.
He spent the next three decades documenting the stories and rituals of more than 80 North American tribes. It took tremendous perseverance — 10 years alone to persuade the Hopi to allow him to observe their Snake Dance ceremony. And the undertaking changed him profoundly, from detached observer to outraged advocate.
It also took a terrible toll on his health, reputation, family and sanity.
Curtis would amass more than 40,000 photographs and 10,000 audio recordings, and is credited with making the first narrative documentary film. In the process, the charming rogue with the grade school education created the most definitive archive of American Indian culture in existence.
I see Leonardo DiCaprio as the dashing, obsessive Curtis, and a real chance for thespians of the Native American persuasive to snag some long-overdue spotlight in this one.
Ideal director: Scott Cooper, he of “Crazy Heart,” “Out of the Furnace” and “Black Mass” fame.

To be continued …

‘DOA’ is alive and (un)well

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“DOA III” is out now, in paperback and digital format, from Blood Bound Books, and I’m proud to be among the contributors. It is surreal and unbelievably gratifying to see my name in the table of contents among so many genre icons. Consider, this volume has stories by the likes of Bentley Little, Jack Ketchum, Edward Lee, Jeff Strand, K. Trap Jones and Richard Christian Matheson, among others.

Check it out on Amazon here. 

It’s obviously not for everybody, but if you like your horror out there — like way, way out there with gobs of gore, it’s most definitely for you.

A big thanks to Marc Ciccarone, Andrea Dawn and the rest of the Blood Bound Books staff for letting me contribute to this awesome anthology.

Give me five: Movies that deserve a remake (just hear me out…)

Spring is a time of new beginnings.

Cute baby animals, budding plants and a general sense of freshness abound at this time of year, as the world wakes up from a long, harsh (very, very wet) winter.

With that in mind, and fresh off the high of seeing the latest King Kong flick, I began to think about remakes.

They get a bad rap. Yes, most of them are inferior and unnecessary. Yes, some of them are downright offensive (I’m looking at you, 2015’s “Point Break”).

And, yes, they do tend to lean heavily on our collective nostalgia button to the point of exhaustion, often needling us, the viewers, into parting with our cash out of some weird sense of obligation to the beloved originals of yesteryear, much like a deadbeat friend hitting you up for cash after reminiscing about the good old days.

However, some of them are amazing.

Successful remakes have given us some of the greatest modern films. Consider: 1982’s “The Thing,” 2001’s “Ocean’s Eleven” (and subsequent sequels), 2010’s “True Grit,” 1991’s “Cape Fear,” 1986’s “The Fly,” 1997’s “Vanishing Point,” 2006’s “The Departed,” 1956’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (the rare example of a legendary director, Hitchcock, remaking his own movie), and the ongoing television version of “Westworld” (2016—?).

Quality viewing, all.

Even a cursory perusal of that list will show that a successful remake hinges on a few key innovations:

1. The story itself gains new importance when viewed through an updated perspective, in light of events subsequent to the release of the original;

2. Technology has changed in such a way that previously impossible FX are now doable, thus better realizing the writer/director’s actual vision for the original film;

3. The original had promise, but flopped due to any number of potential pratfalls not directly related to the story; and/or

4. Placing the plot in a different culture/time period enhances the story and allows it new importance and complexity.

So, with a surge of sunny vitamin D coursing through me and a fresh, springtime sensibility in mind, I set out to create a list of the five films I believe deserve a remake. Some you will know, others you may not — but all are ripe for a fresh set of eyes on both sides of the camera.

Please note: I’m talking here about strict film-to-film remakes (or, reimaginings, if you will), not sequels, prequels or shared universe expansion films — all of which are subjects complex enough to merit their own discussions.

1. “Stealing Harvard” (2002)

Student debt has never been a bigger issue than it is today, with many young Americans effectively entering a state of what is essentially indentured servitude in exchange for a degree, leveraging years of living in debt against the hope that their degree, as promised, proves the gateway to a better life someday. It’s even worse for impoverished or military veteran students who fall prey to the predatory recruiting practices of for-profit education.

This lends a new, decidedly darker tone to the scenario proposed by this under appreciated 2002 flick, which stars Jason Lee as a well intentioned but dopey uncle who, years before, promised his niece that if she worked hard, stayed out of trouble and got accepted into college, he would pay for it. Well, she did. And, of course, he can’t afford it. Determined to not let down the smart, ambitious young lady of decidedly low income means, he turns to his eccentric best buddy (Tom Green) for help in coming up with the cash — by any means necessary. Their method of choice is true blue Robin Hood: they set off to rob rich elitists, and one criminal they knew in high school, bumbling all the way because they are actually decent guys and decidedly incapable of villainy.

I see this being remade in a much more serious tone. A man with a troubled criminal past (I’m thinking Michael Shannon) becomes caretaker for his niece after her parents die in a car accident (or something) and, hoping to help her escape from a life of poverty and struggle makes the college agreement with her, and then must reconnect with an old criminal buddy (Ray Liotta, duh) to “come out of retirement” and “pull one last job” to get a “big score” and come through for the kid.

2. “Brotherhood of Justice” (1986)

With bullying finally being taken seriously as a true social ill and getting the attention it deserves, and in a post—Columbine world of rampant public and school shootings, I think the idea of a handful of students taking it upon themselves to step up and rid their school of danger is worth a revisit. The ’86 version stars Keanu Reeves as the leader of a secret club of seniors at a California high school, the titular “Brotherhood of Justice,” who seek out and attack drug dealers and bullies in response to the continued failings of the adult, so-called authorities to protect the students.

Of course, they eventually go too far and the thrills go to their heads in a big way, with many in the secret club quickly beginning to abuse their power and simply attack anybody they don’t like.

Set in a low income urban school — or a posh private school, perhaps? — I definitely see some potential for a modern take on this one. Maybe Reeves can cameo as a stoner history teacher (“I believe our adventure through time has taken a most serious turn…”)?

3. “Swamp Thing”

How is this not already a thing?

With big studio execs scraping the bottom of every comic book bin in all the nation’s finer flea markets looking for intellectual properties to snatch up, how have we not been treated to a decent, modern version of this classic creature?

Comics, cartoons, a live action TV series and subsequent movie (directed by Wes Craven, no less), this one’s been there, it’s a proven safe bet. A fresh look at Swamp Thing is an idea whose time has practically passed. In his most popular incarnation, Swamp Things is, officially, “A swamp monster that resembles an anthropomorphic mound of vegetable matter. He fights to protect his swamp home, the environment in general, and humanity from various supernatural or terrorist threats.”

Come on! He’s got it all: superpowers, cool villains and a decidedly eco-friendly message. He’s like a less preachy Captain Planet. I can’t be the first guy to see the potential here. In film or on TV, this one writes itself.

4. “Gallowwalkers” (2012)

This was so close to being great it actually makes me a little mad. Consider the original premise: It’s about a gunslinger who is hunted down by the relentless zombies of everyone he ever killed. It’s a great story, and one that was ruined in the 2012 lackluster crap-fest, starring Wesley “I need to pay back the IRS, so any work will do” Snipes. The central idea is far and away the best thing about the movie — and they even changed that in the end! Instead, Snipes’ is killed while trying to avenge his murdered girlfriend. Then, a nun breaks her covenant to save his life (don’t ask, it’s dumb), which in turn curses him. The hex brings his recent victims back to life, and, as the undead, they pursue him for revenge.

Let’s just forget the first movie ever happened, pull an HGTV on this bad boy and flip this flop. I see it as a serious horror/western hybrid that’s part “True Grit” and part “The Walking Dead.” Consider: a gunslinger, a legit bad guy a la Billy the Kid, is cursed after desecrating ancient tribal lands — or some similar Western movie stereotype — and is from then on pursued by the zombies of anybody he kills. Violence being the guy’s only reaction to anything, he’s bound to rack up quite a following rather quickly. Hence, he’ll be forced to learn to use alternative means of problem solving while he flees the angry undead horde and searches for a way to lift the curse. Too easy, Hollywood.

5. “The Running Man” (1987)

Undoubtedly the weirdest of what became a score of questionable Stephen King adaptations, this early Arnold Schwarzenegger vessel maintained the basic premise of the novel, but lost the point. The hero has to be an average, clever guy with no other options, not a superhuman-looking macho man, or it doesn’t work.

Consider the premise: “In 2025, the world’s economy is in shambles and America has become a totalitarian dystopia. Ben Richards, an impoverished resident of the fictional Co-Op City, is unable to find work, having been blacklisted from his trade. His gravely ill daughter Cathy needs medicine, and his wife Sheila has resorted to prostitution to bring in money for the family. In desperation, Richards turns to the Games Network, a government-operated television station that runs violent game shows. After rigorous physical and mental testing, Richards is selected to appear on ‘The Running Man,’ the Games Network’s most popular, lucrative, and dangerous program.”

Richards then proceeds to evade “The Hunters” for longer than anybody previously thought possible, becomes a national sensation, brings hope to a downtrodden populace and embarrasses the corrupt government, upping the stakes with each hour he stays alive.

Basically, it should have been “The Fugitive” and they made it WrestleMania. Actually, I see it working really well as a TV show. The story is very episodic nature, and it would be a cool way to capitalize on the fact that it’s about a TV show. Maybe even include some fake “future” commercials?

Cast an unknown everyman in the lead — and Matthew McConaughey as the super sadistic leader of the Games Network Hunters — and you’re off. The idea of a morally bankrupt society obsessed with violent escapist, (sort of) reality-based entertainment will transfer just fine. Trust me.

Ode to Greedo: Thanks for the memories, sorry about the mess

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From the Bainbridge Island Review: 

The Star Wars saga has created a good many memorable characters over the years, since its 1977 premiere, that have been passed down through the ages since. It seems, though, that for every Lando Calrissian there’s a much more obscure character hiding in the background, and frequently these characters have much more going on than simply adding to the verisimilitude of an intergalactic world.

Star Wars is one of those series that seems to cultivate a backstory for nearly every aspect of its universe. There’s lore for everything from the stripes on Han Solo’s trousers (see: Corelian bootstripe) to the sordid past of Malakili, the rancor handler in Jabba’s palace. So, instead of using this opportunity to laud all the ways that Boba Fett’s armor is totally sick (it would take way too long) we’re gonna take a look at three Review staffer’s favorite lesser-known Star Wars characters.

Nick: Momaw Nadon

For those of you who played sports, Momaw Nadon is the alien shown in “A New Hope,” shortly after Ben and Luke enter the cantina in Mos Eisley. He looks like a cross between a slug, a hammerhead shark and a piece of brown taffy. On the surface it’s easy to pass up Nadon as just another costume thrown into the cantina scene to add to the intergalactic “wow” factor, but in accordance with the laws of Star Wars, Nadon has an incredibly rich inner story, rife with tragedy and hard decisions.

Nadon doesn’t live in Mos Eisley by choice, but because of his exile from his home planet, Ithor. You see, in order to spare his homeworld from destruction at the hands of the empire, Nadon made the difficult choice to divulge Ithorian agricultural secrets to the empire. The empire spared Ithor but Nadon was banished. All of this is according to the 1989 book “Galaxy Guide 1: A New Hope” which served as a supplement to “Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game.” In the film, Nadon actually has less than 10 seconds of screen time.

Also according to his backstory, Nadon keeps a secret garden, tucked away in the hills to the south of Mos Eisley, where he grows crops and occasionally hides rebel operatives. The thing that I love about Nadon, is he’s a team player; he sacrificed his life on his homeplanet to save the Ithorians — that, and I’m pretty sure he’s got the secret to growing some serious tomatoes.

Luciano: Greedo

No, even before you ask, it’s not because he shot first (or did he?).

The ill-fated bounty hunter, now known almost exclusively as “that blue guy Han Solo kills in Mos Eisley,” is my favorite ancillary “Star Wars” character because he is a loser in the classic Greek tragedy sense. A doomed sideline personality whose sudden, iconic death has spawned more passionate fanboy theorizing and philosophizing than the assassination of JFK.

According to series lore, poor Greedo had a long history of being on the wrong end of things way before he ever sat down across from everyone’s favorite scruffy-looking nerf herder.

Chronologically first appearing in deleted scenes of “Episode One,” the young Greedo was introduced by way of his beginning an argument with Anakin Skywalker after the famous Boonta Eve Classic, which he adamantly insists Anakin only won by cheating. The young Rodian and the boy who would become Darth Vader fight, until Qui-Gon Jinn breaks it up.

At this point, Greedo’s friend sagely advises him: “Keep this up, Greedo, and you’re gonna come to a bad end.”

Sigh.

From a young sore loser and wannabe thug, Greedo grew to be a bumbling bounty hunter — presumably to avoid having to get a real job. By the time of the Clone Wars, he was employed by everyone’s favorite Hutt. There then followed an embarrassing and shameful episode wherein he was hired to kidnap the daughters of a Trade Federation official to use them as leverage during a dirty political deal. He got one, at least, before the other clocked him over the head with a statue. He was thus quickly identified (Tatooine’s basically a big small town) and forced to lead the understandably angry father and his equally mad son to where he’d hidden the other girl in Mos Eisley. Greedo did — and then slipped away as his partners in crime were slaughtered by the rescuers.

Later, on that most fateful day, he spied the wanted smuggler Han Solo in Mos Eisley Cantina and jumped at the chance to collect the huge bounty on his head — or just kill him and take the Millennium Falcon. Finally, it seemed, Greedo might have his day. Alas, it was AGAIN not to be for the unlucky Rodian.

His last words?

“I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time.”

Maybe, in a way, he had. The seemingly suicidal schemer did more for establishing the famed character of Han Solo in a few lines of closed captioned banter and a quick death than dramatic expository dialogue aplenty could ever hope to.

Thanks, Greedo. Sorry about the mess.

Brian: Anyone who gets an arm chopped off

I am seriously overmatched here on this Star Wars stuff. Insider scoop: the picks above came after three hours of newsroom debate, which resulted in my eyes getting glazed over as I kept trying — unsuccessfully — to turn the topic to the original “Planet of the Apes” films.

But, it’s May the Fourth. And so, I’ll offer my favorite from my limited Star Wars experience. (Embarrasing admission: I’ve seen only the first three original Star Wars movies. Except for about 15 minutes of the first film from the second series, the one with Jar Jar, I haven’t seen any of the newer films. That means no prequels or sequels or anthologies. Also, no cartoons, Star Wars video games, television series or whatever. I did see the infamously bad “Star Wars Holiday Special” when it aired on TV in 1978. On that, I’ll say this: The screenwriters for that dud really should have had their hands loped off.)

So, my favorite lesser-known character: Anyone who gets an arm chopped off who isn’t a main character (as in, someone not Luke, the droids or Darth Vader). These minor characters really stole some scenes in their limited screen time, you know. Call them “one-armed bandits.” Really, you have to hand it to them.

In the first film, it was Ponda Baba in the cantina scene. As a Star Wars know-nothing, how do I know this character’s name? Google, which has also taught me today that there has been only one film in the series (“The Phantom Menance”) where no one gets a hand lopped off. Apparently, though, Darth Maul got his legs chopped off. Wouldn’t know.

In the “Empire Strikes Back,” my nod goes to Wampa, the character that loses an arm after Luke Skywalker awakens from his icy sleep and mentally and Force-fully coaxes his light saber out of a nearby snowbank.

Seriously, I didn’t know Wampa had a name, either. I always thought of the beast as a spacey aboniminable snowman with an unfortunate underbite.

The Bainbridge Blab is your one-stop spot to get the 411 on all things 98110. From South Beach to Agate Passage, Battle Point to Rolling Bay, we’ve got the straight skinny on Bainbridge Island: the latest chatter, babble and burble. News, too. Have a tip or a comment for the Blab? Email us at editor@bainbridgereview.com.

Best movies to watch outdoors: My picks for flicks to screen ‘neath the stars

The recently announced acquisition by the Bainbridge park district of an 18-foot-by-20-foot inflatable screen on which to show Movies in the Park this summer got my film buff brain running in overdrive.

I can’t help it. I compile film series the way love-struck teenagers make mix tapes. Or, at least the way love-struck teenagers made mix tapes back in my day. How would a Twitter-age Romeo and Juliet express themselves anyway (#Shakespeareselfie)?

But, in considering possible popcorn fare for such a hypothetical en plein air festival, I was ultimately forced to ask myself: What makes a great outdoor movie?

Should it be movies about nature itself, thereby immersing viewers in images of the setting they’re actually in at that moment so as to create a truly meta viewing experience?

Does scale make a movie outdoorsy enough, something epic and grand to be enjoyed on a truly huge screen in a panoramic environment?

Perhaps it’s a movie that best matches the carnivalesque atmosphere that accompanies a large group screening (the best drive in fare was always raucous comedies and scary movies chocked full of jump scares), something best enjoyed in a group?

Maybe it’s a bit of all three?

I threw all that in my mental blender, added a bit of seasonal Sangria for warm weather inspiration, and here’s the cineaste cocktail I came up with.

1. “The Great Outdoors” (1988)

Of course, right? This one has the benefit of meeting two of my above mentioned criteria.

It’s about nature, obviously, and it’s a great group movie, too.

In it, the late great John Candy is taking his family to the remote lakeside cabin resort he himself loved as a child, when his vacation plans are shattered by the arrival of his annoying yuppie brother-in-law (Dan Aykroyd), who has his own freakish family in tow. Boating accidents, young love, steak eating contests and a bald-headed bear all play a role in this comedy classic, borne from the pen of the one and only John Hughes.

As a bonus, it’s rated PG. So nobody has to worry about curious youngsters wandering into view of something they ought not to see.

2. “Godzilla” (2014)

Arguably, this film is one of the core examples for those in favor of the occasional Hollywood remake (along with 1991’s “Cape Fear” and John Carpenter’s “The Thing”).

In it, the second time proved more than charming enough for this, finally, the American Godzilla adaptation the King of the Monsters deserved. I saw the atrocious first American version (1998’s, as I like to think of it now, “Aged Ferris Beuller vs. Godzilla”) at the drive-in when I lived back east, and 10-year-old me was psyched. Obviously, the satisfaction declines sharply as one reaches the age of reason and gives that flick a rewatch.

So I love the idea of screening the new one, where we got everything right, under the wide open sky for the Godzilla fans in the making today. It’s huge, it’s loud, it’s fun and would lend itself well to a Kaiju-sized screen, beneath which we puny humans could easily flee in terror.

3. “The Searchers” (1956)

The saga of John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards, a middle-aged Civil War vet with obvious issues, seeking to rescue his abducted niece is almost certainly one of the best American movies of all time. It was named the greatest American western by the American Film Institute in 2008, and it placed 12th on their 2007 list of the 100 greatest American movies of all time. Entertainment Weekly also named it the best western, and it’s now permanently enshrined in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry.

The awesome, authentic locales and scenery are no small part of the movie’s impact, either. It was filmed in Monument Valley and shot in VistaVision, a higher resolution, widescreen variant of the 35-mm format that paved the way for the IMAX and OMNIMAX formats of so many iconic films of the 1970s. It’s a film as big as the American dream and it deserves to be seen as large as possible, with the smells of the Earth and the sounds of nature completing the experience.

4. “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975)

I have a dream. In it, I see a football field packed to capacity with costumed revelers all doing the Time Warp beneath a towering screen, upon which flickers everybody’s favorite pice of participatory cinema. It could be here, Bainbridge. It could be real. “It’s just a jump to the left…”

5. “Apollo 13” (1995)

More accessible than “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but a bit more off the beaten current cultural track than any “Star Wars” film, this is, for my money, the best space-themed movie to screen beneath the stars.

The story of our ill-fated third moon landing mission is exciting, visually captivating and chocked full of great performances. It’s an example of that truly rare silver screen beast: the heartfelt blockbuster.

6. Pick a Pixar picture

I couldn’t narrow it down. Seriously, that studio has done no wrong. From their early classics (“Toy Story,” “A Bug’s Life” and “Monsters, Inc.”) to the more modern marvels (“WALL-E,” “Up” and “The Good Dinosaur”), it’s all worth a watch, and it would all translate well to the biggest screen we can put them up on. I guess personally, if pushed, I’d have to vote for “Ratatouille.”

7. “Jaws” (1975)

The first true summertime blockbuster, “Jaws” changed the movie-going landscape and remains a perennially popular scream-fest. It’s scary, but not too scary. It’s funny too, and has some truly wonderful performances. It’s got a bit of blood for the horror purists, but is arguably pretty tame by today’s standards.

Put the screen up on the beach and see if anybody’s in the water after five minutes (they won’t be). Only problem is, of course, we’re going to need a bigger spot — in which to fit the crowd that’s sure to turn up.

Brevity is the order of the day

Muddy Puddle Press released “One-Sentence Stories: An Anthology of Stories Told in a Single Sentence” today, and I’m proud to be one of the contributors.

Three of my single-sentence stories are included in the collection, along with the work of 42 other authors: The Main Street Laundromat MassacreThe Condemned Widow Diet, and Did You Hear the News? (Lenny’s finally dead).

It’s a fun, varied anthology, totally worth a read.

Check it out on Amazon here. 

Or Barnes & Noble here. 

A most puzzling painting: Curbside conundrum leads from Rotary donation pile to prison camp, ends in a mystery – for now

By Luciano Marano

In the spring of 1943, a wounded artist crafted a simple black-and-white painting from the hospital bed of the prison camp where he was being detained and almost accidentally created the first great image of the post-Pearl Harbor Japanese internment.

Nobody else could have done it. The man was an artist, an intellectual and a detainee himself; the perfect convergence of skill, interest and experience to immortalize the nation’s then-ongoing shameful misstep.

Then, nearly 75 years later and in a once more tumultuous political climate, the painting ended up becoming just another piece in a pile of stuff — some trash, some treasure — at a curbside Bainbridge Island Rotary auction donation site. It was saved from indefinite obscurity, or worse, by mere chance.

And now, after tireless research and an investment of great time and effort by a select few, who recognized early on the potential importance of this particular donation, the where, when, why and how the picture was made is at last known.

We know who painted it. We know how it became, at least temporarily, famous. But neither of those things are the star of this story. That role, oddly enough, the identity of the mysterious donor, remains unknown — for now.

Read the rest here.