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’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.
1. “Swan Song” by Robert R. McCammon
The new issue of Quantum Fairy Tales (#19, Spring/Summer 2017) is out now, and I’m proud to be among the contributors. My piece, “Storybook Gothic,” a noir-style police procedural featuring reimagined versions of beloved fairy tale creatures, is among this issue’s offerings.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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 Massacre, The Condemned Widow Diet, and Did You Hear the News? (Lenny’s finally dead).
It’s a fun, varied anthology, totally worth a read.
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.