Kool Kat of the Week: Bad Girls and One Benedict: An All Villains Burlesque Review Is Elementary to Sketch MacQuinor

Posted on: Mar 4th, 2014 By:

Sketch MacQuinor as "Sherlock" and Harleen Cassidy as "The Woman." Photo courtesy of Sketch MacQuinor.

Some of Atlanta’s best burlesque salute the really bad girls in VILLAINOUS SCHEMES AND ADULT THEMES on Fri. March 7 and Sat. March 8 at the Academy Theatre in Hapeville. The showcase of sexy skits saluting show business’s villainesses is produced by Hysteria Machines, a collaboration between Fat Cat Cabaret Creative Director Persephone Phoenix  and Sketch MacQuinor, whose day job may be our dream job is an animator whose credits include AdultSwim’s SQUIDBILLIES (read an interview with him about that here).

Persephone was an ATLRetro Kool Kat last fall, so we decided to get the male perspective this time around. Sketch has been performing in Atlanta in various guises for a long time as an animator, artist, and idea man, who, he says, “does a little of everything on stage but sing.” That includes improv, puppetry, stand-up, sketch comedy and impersonating Benedict Cumberbatch‘s SHERLOCK, with whom he shares an uncanny resemblance.
With all that in mind, we thought it would be elementary for Sketch to be this week’s Kool Kat. Here’s what he had to share about this weekend’s show, the imminent return of Fat Cat Cabaret, and his own – shall we call them gloriously geeky – escapades around town and on film.
ATLRetro: How did you and Persephone get the idea for a villains-themed burlesque show come about?
Sketch: I originally just wanted to do a geeky variety show with burlesque elements. When I started asking burlesque performers if they had a geeky number they wanted to dust off or try out, they all asked “What’s the theme?” Apparently, most burlesque shows have themes.  “Geeky comedy!” I replied. “Yeah,” they countered, “but what’s the theme?” Since I had some material I wanted to do involving villains and since I knew that most of the people I approached had some Catwoman, Poison Ivy or Harley Quinn costume in the back of their closet, I just said “Villains.”  From there it blew up, snowballed, took on a life of its own, and other mixed metaphors.
I understand the second half will be all Disney Villains? Why spotlight Disney in particular?
That’s another organic aspect of the show that just happened on its own. Disney-inspired numbers kept getting offered. Violetta Lugosi had an existing number about Snow White.  Venus deMeow had a gorgeous Queen of Hearts number she’d wanted to try out. I saw the preview for the new MALEFICENT movie and ran an idea for a peel to the tune of the sexy new cover of “Once Upon a Dream” by Candi leCoeur, and she jumped at the idea with glee. I asked Facebook, “What Disney villain would you like to see do standup?” and everybody shouted “Hades” [HERCULES]  The routine just wrote itself. My old friend Maggie Dale hasn’t been on stage in years because of an extended case of children, but volunteered to break back out onto the scene with a belting rendition of “Let it Go” with a partial peel.  Others soon came along with other numbers inspired by the empire of Uncle Walt.
Who are some the villainesses that we’ll encounter in the show? 
As mentioned, you’ll see a magnificent Maleficent, an Evil Queen, or two, favorite felonious feline femme fatale Catwoman, and Irene Adler [SHERLOCK], the woman so clever and devious, she earned the name, “The Woman.”

Sketch MacQuinor as "Sherlock." Photo courtesy of Sketch MacQuinor.

Without giving away any big spoilers, what can you tease about your special mystery comedy sketch?  You’re playing the role of Sherlock Holmes, right?

Yes, I am, but I’m really just a prop. The piece itself stars performer Harleen Cassidy as Irene Adler from BBC’s SHERLOCK.  I’ll be acting and capturing his mannerisms with some amount of competency and flair, but you won’t notice me as you’ll be mesmerized by Harleen as she successfully delivers an Adler emulation that with hit you in those parts of your brain that can still be surprised by subtle sensuality. The Woman is amazing, and I envy the audience. I’ll be forced to take my eyes off of her to play the role of Sherlock, but you won’t be able to look away from her powerful stage presence.
This isn’t the first time you’ve done Sherlock and you bear a striking resemblance to Benedict Cumberbatch. How did that get started?
With my long face, small, blue eyes, deep voice and large teeth, I’ve been compared by many to Mr. Cumberbatch, especially in those moments when his characters get goofy. Naturally I started milking the similarity to make some fairly well-executed costumes. I exploited this similarity in a video I put together called “Ladies’ Night at Moriarty’s Pub,” wherein a bunch of villains that you may have seen women express their desires for on Pinterest and on T-shirts gather at a special bar for ne’erdowells.  In it, I play the STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS Khan character, trying to achieve the right balance of growling and purring that the character requires. Fun fact, all four of the female Droog characters in the background are leading their own acts in this production.
Many people may not be familiar with the Academy Theatre in Hapeville. Tell us a little about the venue.
It’s a gorgeous, intimate setting. The Academy Theatre is the longest-running theater in the Atlanta area, though it’s had to change venues a few times. Last year when they lost their last space in Avondale Estates, the Arts Centers of Hapeville and Stockbridge both gave the Academy homes to perform in. The Hapeville location has just a great setup and is [set] to undergo a remodeling in the coming year.
When will Fat Cat Cabaret will back?
Currently we’re planning a return in May, venue permitting.
What else are you up to?
I’m the wrong guy to ask, because I’m up to everything. Redesigning my webcomic, THE MACWINNERS, do more stand-up, do more experimental puppetry, trying to do more illustrated poems, trying to put together more video productions with THE BROTHERHOOD OF DAMN SASSY MUTANTS, get my children’s book HEARTS AND CRAFTS published, produce a second full-cast audiobook, start a family with my incredibly supportive wife, get back into acting, do more audio work with my friends at the Atlanta Radio Theater Company, and spend more time with my aforementioned wife while working my day job as a professional animator.  I sometimes wish I could be one of those guys who just plays ASSASSIN’S CREED when they get home.
What question did I not ask that I should have and what is the answer?
You could ask follow-ups on the children’s book the audiobook, the webcomic, and such, but since they’re not relevant to the article, one could just ask, “When can we meet for Korean tacos in Midtown during the week?”  I like any excuse to do taco lunch, especially on tempeh avocado day.
For more about Sketch, he has a really fun Pinterest page which you can check out here.

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Really Retro: Sergio Leone Meets Norse Legend WHEN THE RAVEN FLIES at The Plaza & A Retrospective on Vikings in the Movies

Posted on: Jun 20th, 2013 By:

WHEN THE RAVEN FLIES (Iceland/Sweden 1984); Dir. Hrafn Gunnlaugsson; Starring Jakob Þór Einarsson; Sunday, June 23; 3 p.m.; Plaza Theatre; Preshow presentation and weapons/crafts for sale by Sons of Loki; Sponsored by Scandinavian American Foundation of Georgia; $8 general admission, $6 for SAFG members; PG-13; violence; parents should exercise caution when bringing children; Trailer; Facebook event page.

By Anya Martin

Vikings may come from cold climates, but Dark Age Scandinavians are hot right now, at least on screen. The TV series, VIKINGS, was such a hit that The History Channel has renewed it for a second season. With promises of capturing the authentic violence of the Vikings in Dark Age Britain, HAMMER OF THE GODS (2013) hits theaters July 5. The main villain in THE AVENGERS (2012) was Norse trickster god Loki, and THOR: THE DARK WORLD, a second feature about that Norse-God-turned-Marvel-Superhero premieres in November. Even Mel Gibson supposedly has BERSERKER, a “real and visceral” Viking feature in preproduction.

In the midst of this seeming Viking fever, critically acclaimed Viking adventure movie WHEN THE RAVEN FLIES (HRAFNINN FLYGUR) will get a rare return to the big screen at the Plaza Theatre on Sun. June 23 at 3 p.m. WHEN THE RAVEN FLIES recounts an Irishman’s quest for revenge on the Viking raiders who savagely killed his parents and abducted his sister. Ancient Norse gods figure prominently in the plot, and the prerequisite violence ensues. However, the film is as much a Western in its structure as a mythological saga with striking visuals of the desert replaced by stunning cinematography of the unique Icelandic landscape. Director Hrafn Gunnlaugsson describes himself as a disciple of Sergio Leone, John Ford and Akira Kurosawa, and the influence of all three is apparent. WHEN THE RAVEN FLIES is evocative of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, in that a mysterious stranger Gestur (Jakob Þór Einarsson) plays off tensions between Thor and Erik, the two brothers who lead the Viking band.

Poster for EMBLA, aka THE WHITE VIKING.

WHEN THE RAVEN FLIES has won several awards, including being voted one of the outstanding films of the 1980s at the Tokyo International Film Festival and Gunnlaugsson winning the 1985 Guldbagge Award for Best Direction, the Swedish equivalent to the Oscars. It was also nominated for the 1986 International Fantasy Film Award for Best Film.The movie is the first of the Raven Trilogy, which includes IN THE SHADOW OF THE  RAVEN (Í SKUGGA HRAFNSINS, 1987) and EMBLA (2007), aka the director’s cut of THE WHITE VIKING (1991), which was originally edited by that film’s producers without Gunnlaugsson’s approval.

If the melding of real Viking lore and Leone couldn’t be cool enough, the screening will be preceded by a live weapons demonstration by the Sons of Loki. These contemporary Vikings will also be present in the Plaza Lobby before and after the movie with Viking handicrafts and weaponry for sale and to answer questions about Scandinavian culture in the Dark Ages.

Still over the history of Hollywood, Viking movies have been relatively rare, compared to other historic-based genres such as the Western or the sword-and-sandle epic. And good ones with any relevance to actual Viking culture even rarer. Therefore, at ATLRetro, we decided to dig a little deeper to excavate a brief saga of Norse-inspired cinema.

THE VIKING (1928).

The first appearance of Vikings on film that we could find was THE VIKING (1928), a silent that chronicles Leif Ericsson‘s journey to the New World. The costumes apparently are strictly Wagner, the weaponry inauthentic and the actual history tenuous, but Leif’s father enthusiastically slaughters Christians and Princess Helga has a sexy winged helmet and heavy black eyeliner.

Unfortunately, Hollywood didn’t return to the world of the Vikings until the 1950s when a sudden splash of features hit the big screen. The first, PRINCE VALIANT (1954), was based on the popular comics series, directed by Henry Hathaway (who would go on to direct TRUE GRIT[1969]) and starred a young Robert Wagner. It was a fun sword-and-sorcery romp with links to the King Arthur legend and the bonus that the sword actually sung, but the plot has virtually nothing to do with authentic Vikings. Always one to follow a trend as cheaply as possible, Roger Corman followed with THE SAGA OF THE VIKING WOMEN TO THE WATERS OF THE GREAT SEA SERPENT (1957). In this cheesy fantasy frolic, a young way-pre-FALCON CREST Abby Dalton leads a bevy of scantily clad Norse babes to battle a monster and rescue a missing man.

Then came THE VIKINGS (1958), the first actual epic Hollywood treatment starring Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Ernest Borgnine and Janet Leigh. Full of battles and striking cinematography in Norwegian locations, this romanticized story of two brother vying for a Welsh princess was directed by Richard Fleischer (20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA [1954]) and also benefitted from visual designs by Harper Goff, another 20,000 LEAGUES veteran as art director. Some time around then, by the way, was the only other Norse-inspired TV series, TALES OF THE VIKINGS, which ran about 19 episodes from 1959-60. Alas most of the footage is lost, but it lifted scenes and props directly from THE VIKINGS movie. You can hear the jaunty theme song here! Oh, wait, there was also the silly British children’s cartoon NOGGIN THE NOG which ran from 1959 to the mid-70s.

Italian giallo director Mario Bava (DANGER:DIABOLIK; BARON BLOOD) also tried his hand on two spaghetti Viking features, ERIK THE CONQUEROR (1961) and KNIVES OF THE AVENGER (1966) with American action hero Cameron Mitchell, who would go on to become best known as Uncle Buck in 1960s TV Western series THE HIGH CHAPARRAL. The first steals its tale of two brothers plot directly from THE VIKINGS, but is noteworthy for rich cinematography, strong action and dancing vestal virgins. California-based living history and educational group, the Vikings of Bjornstad point out in their wonderful Viking Movie List (see link at end), “This is a Viking-related movie. It’s 786 AD. The ships had red and white striped sails. Once in a while, someone yells “Odin!'” They go on to mention inaccurate costumes that even sometimes have clearly visible zippers, an “underground throne room left over from some Biblical Philistine movie” and a Viking village that seems to be made out of Lincoln logs. KNIVES OF THE AVENGER  is basically a spaghetti Western reset in the Dark Ages mixed with pirates, supernatural magic and lots of knife-throwing which the trusty Vikings of Bjornstad spare no punches to declare “Worst Viking Movie Ever!” As for Cameron Mitchell, maybe he aspired to be the Clint Eastwood of Italian Viking epics since he also starred in THE LAST OF THE VIKINGS (L’ULTIMO DEI VIKINGHI, 1961) and ATTACK OF THE NORMANS (I NORMANNI, 1962).

Charlton Heston is THE WAR LORD (1965).

In general, the 1960s weren’t good to the Vikings on screen, whether outright fantasy or not. THE LONG SHIPS (1964) is a lightweight adventure about a Viking quest for a golden bell in the Holy Land. Directed by Jack Cardiff, cinematographer of THE VIKINGS, and starring Richard Widmark as a Viking warrior and Sidney Poitier as a Moorish king, the movie is not really very Viking except for the presence of a long ship and round shields. But the action scenes nonetheless are amplified by lush Yugoslavian locations, and the titles were designed by Maurice Binder who crafted the Bond openers. Not surprisingly, Charlton Heston also did an obligatory stint as a Norman war lord in THE WAR LORD (1965) charged with defending his Duke’s land again Frisian invaders, who are costumed to look like Vikings, not a far stretch considering they came from near Denmark and were eventually conquered. Despite the stringy chainmail and Hollywood backlot locations, The Vikings of Bjornstad give this one a thumbs up, noting that Heston is well cast and it’s “one of the few films that touches on the differences between the Christian Normans and the pagans they ruled.” They also wouldn’t mind seeing a better update of another Hollywood film that had potential, ALFRED THE GREAT (1969), which starred David Hemmings as King Alfred and Michael York as Viking Chief Guthrum.

Britain’s Hammer Films, known for its high quality low budget horror, served up THE VIKING QUEEN (1967). The goofy plot is involves women wearing much too little to be comfortable in British climates, a Viking-Roman forbidden romance and a Brits versus Romans rebellion which evokes Celtic tribal queen Boudicca. Nobody obviously cared to check and see that Vikings didn’t raid the U.K. coast until long after the Romans had already left. Meanwhile, Danish film HAGBARD AND SIGNE (aka THE RED MANTLE/DEN RODE KAPPE, 1967)  transplanted a ROMEO AND JULIET storyline to two warring Viking families. Filmed in Iceland, Roger Ebert called it “a beautiful, lean spare film…the sleeper of the year,” and the Vikings of Bjornstad overall give it a thumbs up for aesthetics and action for the time.

Perhaps mercifully the long ships barely got unmoored during the ’70s, with the highest profile feature THE NORSEMAN (1978) sinking at the box office despite starring a hunky Lee Majors, at the peak of his SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN fame, with a Tom Selleck moustache as Greenland’s Prince Thorvald. It followed the frequent Viking movie plot of a journey to the New Land, in this case to free his father King Eurich (Mel Ferrer) who is imprisoned by Native Americans, and the brawny cast also included quirky character actor Jack Elam, then a Western staple; NFL stars Fred Biletnikoff and Deacon Jones, and Denny Miller (TARZAN THE APE MAN, 1959). Oh, lest we forget, Walt Disney action-adventure flick THE ISLAND AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD (1974) included a lost Viking colony.

In the ’80s, ERIK THE VIKING (1989) literally became a bad joke. Alas it was to be a Monty Python vehicle starring Graham Chapman, but while Terry Jones directed and John Cleese plays the villain, audiences just didn’t find it funny maybe because of the sheer unlikelihood of Mickey Rooney, Eartha Kitt and Imogen Stubbs appearing in even a satire of a Norse saga. Tim Robbins valiantly gave his best effort to star as Erik who ironically was tired of marauding and goes on a quest for a magic horn of peace.

Well, that’s in the English and apparently Italian speaking world of mainstream movies. In Iceland where Vikings actually lived, the 1980s produced a number of features that purported to be more authentic takes on Norse culture. The first was OUTLAW, THE SAGA OF GISLI (UTLAGINN, 1981), based directly on the Gisla saga. Then director Hrafn Gunnlaugsson embarked on WHEN THE RAVEN FLIES, the film which is playing at the Plaza and became the first installment of a Viking trilogy. Norway also produced THE LITTLEST VIKING (1989), a charming children’s tale about a daydreaming boy who seeks to end a feud with another clan. It apparently has lots of stunning fjord shots.

In the ’90s and 2000s, the mainstream Viking feature took a turn towards being more gritty and gory, allegedly to be true to the times or well, because, dark sells movie tickets. Several interesting ventures featuring high-profile directors and actors sailed onto the big screen. The first was ROYAL DECEIT (aka PRINCE OF JUTLAND, 1994), a supposedly period-accurate retelling of HAMLET starring Christian Bale as a sixth century Danish prince whose father (Tom Wilkinson) is murdered by a power-hungry uncle (Gabriel Byrne, who would be back in Viking robes as the surly old chieftain in The History Channel’s VIKINGS this spring). Of course, he has the hots for his hot mama (who else but Helen Mirren?!). The Vikings of Bjornstad like that the costumes, weaponry and sets are simple, hence probably more period accurate, but otherwise found it disappointing despite what would seem to be a strong cast. The European version is 17 minutes longer than the US/Region I DVD version.

THE 13TH WARRIOR (1999)

Next up is the uber-violent THE VIKING SAGAS (1995), directed by Michael Chapman, the cinematographer of Martin Scorsese‘s RAGING BULL (1980). It starred Ralf Moeller (TV’s CONAN, GLADIATOR) and was actually filmed in Iceland. Alas, the acting and script are not much, but it has a mythic quality with a magic sword – as much a must seemingly for a Viking movie as a medieval fantasy one – and more of an authentic look than most of its predecessors, actual Icelandic movies excepted.

And then THE 13TH WARRIOR (1999) nailed the look and feel of a Norse legend perhaps better than any Hollywood film that came before it. Originally titled EATERS OF THE DEAD and based on a Michael Crichton novel, it was meant to be a gory but realistic retelling of BEOWULF, but really more captured the spirit of a Robert E. Howard short story though its outsider hero, an Arab ambassador played by Antonio Banderas, was more spirit and intellect than Conan the Barbarian brawn. Unfortunately, director John McTiernan (DIE HARD, PREDATOR) was not allowed the final cut (the idea of a director’s version someday being released seems increasingly remote especially with McTiernan now in prison). However, enough of McTiernan’s vision remained that THE 13TH WARRIOR acquired a loyal fan following (including a high recommend from ATLRetro and an even better authority – the Vikings of Bjornstad).

Yeah, we are going to skip quickly over the disappointing PRINCE VALIANT (1997) – ATLRetro would love to see a PRINCE VALIANT that’s true to Hal Foster‘s wonderful comic which has been recently resurrected by masterful illustrator Gary Gianni, but this is NOT it. And no time is worth devoting to BEOWULF (1999) starring Christopher Lambert who at some point after GREYSTOKE did completely forget how to act. And the Vikings of Bjornstad say everything worth saying about BERSERKER: HELL’S WARRIOR (2004) in this phrase – “time-traveling immortal Viking vampires who wear sunglasses in discotheques…So overdone.”

The Vikings of Bjornstad rank Polish movie THE OLD FAIRY TALE (STARA BASN, 2003) as “the best Viking movie” for its historical accuracy. Directed by Jerzy Hoffman, who has been called Poland’s John Ford, the 9th century story revolves around a wicked Polish king and a Viking-raised hero. Apparently, Viking reenactment is big in Poland, which the Vikings of Bjornstad think may have contributed to it, first, getting made, and second, its high quality. Also well worth a view for its stunning Icelandic scenery and interesting take on the quintessential Saxon/Norse legend is BEOWULF AND GRENDEL (2005), starring a pre-300 Gerard Butler and featuring some of the best Viking era costumes of any film.

In South Africa-filmed low-budget BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (BLOOD OF BEASTS, 2005), Odin punishes a Viking princess (Jane March)  by trapping her in a castle with a beast. A Gallic bande dessinee hero finally gets big-screen treatment in the French animated comedy ASTERIX AND THE VIKINGS (2006) which seems to forget that Vikings weren’t around yet in AD 50. Robert Zemeckis‘s much-touted 3D BEOWULF (2007) honed so close to the original poem, probably thanks to Neil Gaiman being involved in the script, but yes, the animation even of beautiful Angelina Jolie as Grendel’s evil mother, is decidedly creepy.

PATHFINDER (2007) starred Karl Urban, who certainly looked mighty Norse as Eomer in THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, as a Viking raised by Native Americans who ends up leading the tribe that raised him in battle against new Viking invaders. A crappy remake of a much better 1987 Norwegian movie, the story really comes from Lapland/Sammi mythology. Directed by Marcus Nispel (TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE [2003], CONAN [2011] ), it’s gory melodrama with lots of mist. The same year (2007) also saw the release of the more serious and well-reviewed SEVERED WAYS: THE NORSE DISCOVERY OF AMERICA.

Jim Caviezel (THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST) travels back from the future to 8th century Norway in  OUTLANDER (2008). Viewers who ignore that this mash-up of Norse mythology and sci-fi is light on history may have silly fun. It features both laser guns and swords, a monster, John Hurt as the old king, Sophia Myles as the prerequisite sexy princess and Ron Perlman as a gruff Viking with, let’s just say, poor manners.

And then there’s VALHALLA RISING (2009). Director Nicholas Winding Refn (DRIVE) spares no punches with the ultra-violence in which Christian Vikings and a mute slave (Mads Mikkelsen, HANNIBAL, CASINO ROYALE) headed for the Holy Land get blinded by fog  and end up in the New World. An article in Movie Fanfare on the “Top 13 Viking Films You Need to See” (see link at end) perhaps put it best: “VALHALLA RISING plays like THE VIKINGS co-directed by Terrence Malick and Italian gore specialist Umberto Lenzi!”

And oh yeah, there was some movie about a Marvel super-hero named THOR (2011).

For more about Vikings in the Movies, check out the Vikings of Bjornstad’s Viking Movie List, as well as Movie Fanfare’s “Top 13 Viking Films You Need to See.” 

 

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Retro Review: Splatter Cinema Takes You Straight to Sci-Fi Hell with EVENT HORIZON Tues. April 9 at The Plaza Theatre

Posted on: Apr 8th, 2013 By:

Splatter Cinema presents EVENT HORIZON (1997); Dir. Paul W.S. Anderson; Starring Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan; Tuesday, April 9 @ 9:30 p,m. (come early at 9 p.m. for photo op with a realistic recreation of a scene from the film); Plaza Theatre; Facebook event page here; Trailer here.

By Robert Emmett Murphy
Contributing Writer

I remember when EVENT HORIZON first came out in 1997, and specifically I remember the context of its contemporaries in SF filmmaking. A large handful of undeniable classics notwithstanding, 1990s SF filmmaking was showing clear signs of exhausting itself. There were a bumper crop of major releases with improving budgets, consistently breathtaking in their special effects and all other aspects of design, and more prestigious casts; but many, many of those films proved remarkably disappointing. Concepts that seemed ambitious were dumbed down badly, and then rendered in near incoherent form even after they were simplified. We started to pine for less bloated and more energetic B movies, but those B movies were now competing with big budget films for what was once their exclusive audience share, As a result they often got cowardly, losing their sense of “nothing to lose and everything to prove” and trapping themselves in the rehashing of major releases. The films most rehashed in that era were already a decade or more old, TERMINATOR (1984) and ALIEN (1979).

Because EVENT HORIZON did do many things right, it was ultimately far more frustrating than the very many far worse films around it. Among its virtues, the most important was that it was a SF horror film set entirely on a spaceship, but it wasn’t yet another ALIEN knock-off. In retrospect, it anticipates the recent ALIEN prequel PROMETHEUS (2012) in its tremendous narrative ambition, crippled by far from coherent storytelling, but then bolstered by strong set pieces and even better performances, only to again be undercut by not knowing what to do with the people they have wandering around the uncertain plot.

EVENT HORIZON does reference ALIEN, recapturing aspects of the look and the wonderful claustrophobic feel, and taking advantage of the more famous film’s opening ploy – our heros are traveling deep into the void in response to a distress call, and none are prepared for what they will find.

The year is 2047, and the rescue ship, “Lewis and Clark,” is piloted by an under-developed hero named Captain Miller, who is thankfully played by Laurence Fishburne, an actor whose career is notable for how many times he’s had to breathe life into under-developed characters. For the most part, his crew is similarly under-written, yet in almost every case exceptionally well-played. In fairness to the script, they do have a collective identity based on loyalty, professionalism and camaraderie that they as individuals lack.

Dr. Weir (Sam Neill) in EVENT HORIZON. Paramount Pictures, 1997

Among them is a resented stranger, Dr. William Weir, played quite well by Sam Neill. He’s the most developed of the nine significant members of the dramatis personae. Weir is carefully trying to cover how personally haunted he is. He’s suffering from nightmares of his wife’s suicide, and it was his experimental Faster-Than-Light drive (in this film, they use the hyperspace template for that future technology) is definitely at the root of the crisis, though even he can’t know how or why.

They are there to rescue the crew and research from the ship the “Event Horizon,” which seven years prior literally disappeared from the universe while testing Dr. Weir’s technology. Now, suddenly and mysteriously, it has returned. What the crew of the “Lewis and Clark” find is a gory mess, the “Event Horizon’s” crew were driven mad by their trip out of our universe and back, and slaughtered each other in a remarkable orgy of murder-suicide. Our heroes also discover the derelict ship brought something back from the other universe, an ambiguous but implacably hostile entity that can do bad things to the human mind.

“Event Horizon” is a haunted house in space, and as every school child knows, those who are most haunted entering the door are most vulnerable to the haunting once inside. The crew is right to distrust Dr. Weir, because he’s going to prove to be nothing but trouble.

The film’s most explicit references aren’t to other Science Fiction Horror films, but to Supernatural Horror films, notably THE SHINING (1980) and DON’T LOOK NOW (1973). (One film it was especially careful not to visually reference is SOLARIS (1972) because it doesn’t want to remind the audience that this over-the-top-gore-fest stole all its major plot points from that slow, meditative, art-house film.)

EVENT HORIZON. Paramount Pictures, 1997

Many (most?) of the film’s virtues are in its production which is remarkably rich and coherent through the exquisite special effects, exceptional set design and best of all, its sound editing by veteran sounds effects editor Ross Adams. The film’s suspense is heightened tremendously by the always intrusive ambient noises which never let you forgot the oppressiveness and implicit threat of a wholly artificial environment. That year, TITANIC took that (and every other) Oscar, but in comparison to this largely disregarded film, TITANIC’s sound is just a lot of smartzy bullshit.

This classy production led strength to the large number of marvelous set pieces, such as the opening scene where we are pulled back from the window of a space station and rotated as we pass through its vast structure, and keep on pulling back until the huge habitat is dwarfed by the giant Earth behind it. Another good one is the Lewis and Clark’s approach to the Event Horizon, spectacularly skimming the storm clouds of Neptune’s upper atmosphere.

Best of all was Capt. Miller’s desperate race to rescue his young crew member Justin, played by Jack Noseworthy, who is about to be sucked out of an airlock. What I was most impressed with this scene was its rare fidelity to the science, and the way it used the physical realities for dramatic effect. The imperfect, but unusually good, scientific literacy of the script strengthens the first half of the film tremendously. Unfortunately, by the last third, all concepts of natural laws and forces hves become as cartoonishly incompetent as Disney’s notorious BLACK HOLE (like ALIEN, also released in 1979, and also a clear influence on this film).

The scene that best evokes how very ambitious EVENT HORIZON was is the climax [Ed. note: SPOILER ALERT], where we have the destruction, and at same time, survival, of the title vessel, with two very different escapes, and two very different entrapments, all unfolding at the same moment. Too bad by that point the script had degenerated into complete chaos and incoherence.

EVENT HORIZON. Paramount Pictures, 1997

It seems like someone forgot to ask themselves what the golden thread really was, but who is the guilty party? Definitely director Paul W.S. Anderson, whose career is studded with ably executed, visual striking and surprisingly lavish movie-making, but who is not known for either substantive ideas or characterization. He’s been the writer and/or director on 14 films, six of which were based on video games, and another five were constructed in such a way as to facilitate video game tie-ins.

Also clearly one or both of the writers are at fault. Philip Eisner developed the initial script, but there were extensive, uncredited, rewrites by Andrew Kevin Walker at Anderson’s request.

A post-production decision to cut out 30 minutes of storytelling to make room for more special effects probably didn’t help much either.

Here’s the deal: The humans who pass through the interdimensional portal are psychicly shattered and reduced to homicidal and suicidal insanity. Implicitly, the alien who was accidently dragged through the same portal in the other direction has suffered the same. Had that been made explicit, it could’ve been explored – the monster is as much a victim as the crew, and specifically was the unintended victim of Dr. William Weir. Sympathetic monsters, like the Frankenstein monster, are horror’s most emotionally potent trope. And when the sympathy is discovered through process of rational investigation, the story stands on the firmament of legitimately mature science fiction, as in the classic STAR TREK episode “The Devil In The Dark” (1967).

EVENT HORIZON. Paramount Pictures, 1997

But instead we get a promising premise ship-wrecked by what is inevitably evoked whenever a script is peppered with phrases like “the ultimate evil” and “something infinitely more terrifying than Hell;” and a future spaceship crewed by English-speaking scientists start spontaneously babbling Church Latin and decorate their cabins with cabalistic runes painted in blood.

Probably the best guide to how terribly it all went wrong was what was done to the two best developed characters:

Lt. Peters (Kathleen Quinlan) is one of only three who gets any kind of back-story, and unlike Capt. Miller and Dr. Weir, her history isn’t evoked with excessive melodrama or ham-fisted exposition. Moreover, Quinlan provides, hands-down, the film’s best performance. She also gets killed before contributing anything to the plot. ARE YOU KIDDING ME! That’s not the character you treat as cannon fodder! Joely Richardson, as the wholly forgettable Lt. Strark who somehow manages to survive to the final credits, should’ve been cannon fodder. I suspect age-ism; Quinlan was 43 at the time, compared to Richardson’s 32, making her better prepared to run around in her underwear.

Then there’s Dr. Weir, so ably played by Neill until the script stops making sense. After that, he’s transformed into an utterly ridiculous monster. An important plot point is that Weir, though he is most vulnerable to the influence of the alien, hasn’t been through the interdimensional gate. He’s stalked, like Dr. Frankenstein, by the consequences of his defiance of nature. In the end, he is the alien’s super-human puppet, and a lot of the stuff coming out of his mouth is completely inexplicable if he hasn’t already been over to the other side. The film evokes demonic possession as an excuse, but it’s a poor excuse because there was no honest effort to tie that concept to the already well-established and fascinating environment, or the already clearly established mechanics of interdimentional travel. It just kind of leaps head first into the realm of mid-1980s straight-to-video NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET knockoffs.

A gorier moment in EVENT HORIZON. Paramount Pictures, 1997.

EVENT HORIZON was a financial bomb, recouping less than half its $60 million dollar budget domestically. It temporarily derailed the director’s career, but he made a comeback by studiously avoiding all smartness ever since (he’s the main guy behind the RESIDENT EVIL film franchise). It was also brutalized by the critics, many of whom had a lot of fun making it out to be much worse than it was. I imagine Stephen Hunter rubbing hands and cackling with glee as he wrote this:

“If you want to have that EVENT HORIZON experience without spending the seven bucks, try this instead: Put a bucket on your head. Have a loved one beat on it vigorously with a wrench for 100 minutes. Same difference, and think of the gas you’ll save.”

Now that’s just plain mean.

The late, great Roger Ebert was far more on target (as usual):

“It’s all style, climax and special effects. The rules change with every scene…But then perhaps it doesn’t matter. The screenplay creates a sense of foreboding and afterboding, but no actual boding.”

The retro/cult market eventually redeemed this film. It’s almost perfect for that nitch, because when forewarned, the film’s self-destructiveness is actually pretty amusing. Also, cult cinema has always thrived on the ambitious failures, the shoulda, coulda, woulda’s of Hollywood, and this movie is all of them wrapped up into one.

Robert Emmett Murphy Jr. is 47 years old and lives in New York City. Formerly employed, he now has plenty of time to write about movies and books and play with his cats.

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Retro Review: Feminine Sexual Threat Meets Avian Apocalypse: THE BIRDS Attack the Plaza Theatre in the Last Weekend of Alfred Hitchcock Month

Posted on: Nov 28th, 2012 By:

By Robert Emmett Murphy Jr.
Special to ATLRetro.com

THE BIRDS (1963); Dir: Alfred Hitchcock; Screenplay by Evan Hunter (aka Ed McCain); Starring Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor, Suzanne Pleshette, Jessica Tandy; Fri. Nov. 30 – Sun. Dec. 2; Plaza Theatre (visit Plaza Theatre Website for showtimes and ticket prices); Trailer here.

Alfred Hitchcock, like a lot of thriller and horror filmmakers, always displayed an influence by Freudian theory. In THE BIRDS, he’s pared it down to one essential: all actions are motivated, most motives unconscious. Having first established that with the characters, he shows the same proves to be the apocalyptic secret behind the workings of the whole world.

Loosely based on Daphne du Maurier’s short story of the same title, THE BIRDS is Alfred Hitchcock’s only explicit foray into science fiction and fantasy. The screenplay by Evan Hunter (better known as crime writer Ed McCain) is awkward, but also ambitious. It’s Hitchcock’s immediate follow-up to PSYCHO (1960) and borrows from its device of a lengthy preamble, telling a story that proceeds along one narrative line until events outside the so-far-established frame of reference break that line, radically changing what the film’s about. When the main story arrives, it is disorienting and meant to be. Tippi Hedren plays a spoiled heiress who develops a crush on Rod Taylor which seems petulant – she wants to win his affection only to trump his mocking her – and a little creepy in its aggressiveness. She doesn’t know him at all, but stalker-like, she travels a long distance to arrive uninvited at his home.

Taylor lives in an island fishing community, and the first hint of the actual threat/main story comes is when Hedren is approaching the island by motorboat and a seagull flies into her, giving her a minor injury. That minor injury may have influenced Taylor in not immediately demanding she turn around and go home. So Hedren has a small opening and is not without wiles. Taylor starts to respond, but obstacles appear quickly. His clinging mother, Jessica Tandy, doesn’t like Hedren. Then there’s Taylor’s ex-girlfriend, Suzanne Pleshette, who surprisingly befriends Hedren, but also provides some insights into Taylor that suggests he’s as out-of-touch with his motivations as Hedren is.

The dialogue is a little strained, but covering interesting ground. It’s a love story examining people who don’t know why they do the things they do. It’s justifiably talky because every dialogue is a negotiation to establish one’s position in three-or-more-player power relationships.

This is also not at all what the film is about. As the threat escalates at an almost leisurely pace, the amount of dialogue decreases.

THE BIRDS attack Tippi Hedren and a group of children in one of the Hitchcock masterpiece's most iconic scenes. Universal Pictures, 1963.

What this film is about is the revenge of nature and the end of the world. The film won’t tell us why this inexplicable disaster erupts any more than Hedren can honestly explain her pursuit of Taylor. I don’t know if it was Hitchcock or Hunter who made the bold move to violate one of the fundamental rules of monster movies in their refusal to provide even a partial explanation for the events. It was ballsy though. I can’t think of another film driven by seemingly motiveless events that was anything but annoying, because in almost any other example, motivelessness is the same as incoherence. The original short story is ambiguous regarding explanation, but suggestive. The film, though, is completely opaque.

Maybe part of the success is that explanations are dangled in front of us, and they seem to make emotional sense, but clearly don’t make narrative sense. This is another of a string of Hitchcock films where ice-queen blondes appear to be the well from which all evil flows, but always Hitcock is always putting a modest twist on that easily misogynist interpretation of that “evil.” In VERTIGO (1958), Madeleine (Kim Novak) is bad, and drives a innocent man to obsession, but she’s not the main architect of the fiendish plot [Ed. note: Read our Retro Review of VERTIGO, which played last weekend at The Plaza, here]. In NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) Eve (Eva Marie Saint) is deceitful and part of the circumstances that put our hero at risk, but she is in on her deceit, she is serving a greater good and proves to be almost as much a victim of circumstances as our hero is. In PSYCHO (1960) Marion (Janet Leigh) is a criminal and a betrayer for sure, but none of her sins have any bearing on her fate.

Here, the apocalypse seems to arrive with Hedren, but as weird as she is, she does nothing that could reasonably provoke anything larger than Tandy’s jealous resentment. Moreover, as the story unfolds, it becomes obvious that the disaster is much larger than any of these lives or the geography we see in the film itself. When Hedren is accused of being evil’s harbinger by a hysterical woman, that seems only to reinforce the irrationality of the suggestion. But no other explanation is provided.

Semi-feminist writer Camille Paglia mined the irrational vein in search of meaning. She interpreted THE BIRDS as a celebration of the complex faces and threats female sexuality presents to a man, to the point that nature becomes an extension of that tension. She notes that more women play more pivotal roles in THE BIRDS than in any other Hitchcock film. The hero is defined by his relationships with his mother, younger sister (more like a daughter) and ex-lover, and that careful balance is thrown off by the appearance of Hedren. The disruption of the domestic balance is blown up to become the disruption of the balance of nature.

Once the bird attacks start escalating, each is paced and staged very differently from the one before, and this is where Hitchcock shows his true mastery. Every attack is remembered as a classic moment. Like Hedren sitting on a bench outside a school house waiting for Pleschette, a teacher, to take a break. Hedren lights a cigarette. We hear the children inside singing in unison. Hedren doesn’t notice what we can see over her shoulder, the playground jungle-gym gradually fill with hordes of silent crows.

Or like the largest attack, which, surprisingly, isn’t the last one. It features Hedren, who arrived at the island with caged birds, trapped in a cage-like phone booth while killer birds swirl around her (Hitchcock quite effectively put the camera inside the booth with her, so we shared the claustrophobia and shock of the assault).

And the climax, after the whole community finds itself under siege, and Hedren and Taylor’s family barricade themselves in his house. In the only scene taken directly from Du Maurier’s story, the attack becomes more frenzied, suicidal, and no defense can be adequate because there are so many of them, they are so small and there’s always another way in.

Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor in Hitchcock's THE BIRDS. Universal Pictures, 1963.

Two things come up in every review of THE BIRDS – Hitchcock’s choice to do without a conventional score and the landmark FX. Though there is no music per se, Hitchcock did use his favorite composer, Bernard Herrmann, to create scary, synthesized bird calls to counterpoint the calculated silences. For this reason, THE BIRDS is the eeriest sounding of all his films.

Then there are the special effects. Simply put, what Hitchcock achieved should’ve been impossible with the technology of the day. It contains more than 370 separate trick shots. Every technique then imaginable was employed here including a slew of matte paintings, trained birds lured by feasts of fish and food scraps, mechanical birds, stuffed birds, and a scene during which Hitchcock literally threw live birds at Hedren (under those circumstances, the animals’ aggressiveness was probably sincere and Hedren’s fear wasn’t acting). The scene where the children are attacked on the road (this is part of the same sequence where the birds gather on the jungle-gym) involved most of the above, plus meticulous animations integrated into shots of live actors, through a complex “yellowscreen” process executed by Disney’s Ub Iwerks, who was one of the technique’s inventors. And then there were the two unnamed female artists who spent three months hand-painting seagulls onto tiny film frames for a scene that lasted less than 10 seconds.

David Thomson refers to THE BIRDS as Hitchcock’s “last unflawed film.” These two clips cover the jungle-gym attack of children sequence. I still marvel that this was done in the days before CGI:

watch?v=ydLJtKlVVZw&feature=relmfu

watch?v=hplpQt424Ls

Robert Emmett Murphy, Jr., is based in New York. This article is number 58 in a series of 100 essays he is penning, inspired by the British documentary THE 100 GREATEST SCARY MOMENTS (2003). It is reprinted with permission. The moment selected for the list can be found at the 1 hour, 38 minute marker. 

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Really Retro: Lisa Stock Explores an Older, Darker Side of Fairy Tales in Her Play of Neil Gaiman’s SNOW, GLASS, APPLES

Posted on: Aug 22nd, 2011 By:

Carrie Anne Hunt as the Snow White Princess in Lisa Stock's play of Neil Gaiman's SNOW, GLASS, APPLES, which opens Aug. 24.

SNOW WHITE has a reputation for being a cheery story about a cute princess and seven mostly affable dwarves, but the only time I ever hid my eyes in a movie as a child was when the evil stepmother queen transforms herself into a hideous wicked witch in the Walt Disney version. Trust author Neil Gaiman (SANDMAN, AMERICAN GODS) to cleverly latch onto the darker side of that familiar tale and consider that mere jealousy might not be sufficient motive to drive the queen to murder by poisoned apple. And maybe the prince wasn’t exactly your normal kind of hero either. “I was reading Neil Philip‘s [PENGUIN BOOK OF] ENGLISH FOLKTALES, and a rereading of a version of SNOW WHITE made me stop and wonder what kind of person she was, and what kind of person sees a dead girl in a glass coffin and wants to keep her…,” Neil said in an email last week when asked what led him to write the short story, SNOW, GLASS, APPLES. Now Snow White’s white skin, blood-red lips and coffin-sleeping take on a new meaning with disturbing erotic implications, and the queen becomes a protagonist with a difficult moral choice.

Lisa Stock. Photo credit: Jaclyn Cook.

Originally published as a benefit book for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund in 1994, SNOW, GLASS, APPLES captured the imagination of so many readers that it was reprinted in two anthologies—TWICE BITTEN: LOVE IN VEIN II (1997), edited by Poppy Z. Brite, and Neil’s own collection SMOKE AND MIRRORS (1998). One of those readers was Lisa Stock, who like the storytellers of old, had her own thoughts about taking the tale in a new direction from page to stage. Through a few mutual friends, the then-New York-based writer/director for theater and film politely asked Neil nicely for a chance to have some fun with his story of bloodlust and mistrust. Charmed by her vision, the idea of seeing his creation come to life and the fact that all proceeds would benefit charity (East Atlanta Community Association), he granted her wish. “I love live theatre,” Neil said. “There’s a magic you cannot get from anything else when it’s good.”

While this real-life fairy tale so far may seem more CINDERELLA, it’s Atlanta audiences that really are the lucky ones. SNOW, GLASS, APPLES has its world premiere here Wed. Aug. 24 through Sun. Aug. 28 in the unusual venue of the East Atlanta Village Farmers Market, re-envisioned by Lisa as a dreamlike Spring Fair. Artists and photographers also will have a chance to draw and photograph cast members in costume and preview the phantasmagoric sets during a Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School Atlanta field trip on Mon. Aug. 22. Performances are rated “R” for simulated violence and adult themes, but a special family-friendly show will be held Aug. 28 at 6 p.m.

ATLRetro recently caught up with Lisa to find out more about what drew her to the dark story, crafting a truly unique audience experience, why it’s the perfect fit for a Dr. Sketchy and a little about her other mythic projects, including the upcoming independent feature film TITANIA.

For those unfamiliar with Neil Gaiman’s SNOW, GLASS, APPLES, without giving away too much, how is it different from the Disney version of SNOW WHITE we grew up with? And more like the original darker versions that date back to Medieval times?
For me, Neil Gaiman’s version reflects the earliest forms of the tale, some [of which] trace back to the myth of Persephone (eating pomegranate seeds and falling into a half-life in the Underworld). The tales were originally much darker in nature and true morality tales. SNOW, GLASS, APPLES for me is just that—a cautionary tale about trusting or mistrusting your instincts. It’s also about self-preservation in a brutal world, and how you deal with the choices that have been handed to you. Our protagonist doesn’t get saved and have all that’s hers by birthright returned to her. She makes her own decisions—for better or worse—and goes out to protect, on her own, what she holds dear.

How did you discover SNOW, GLASS, APPLES and what drew you personally to the story?
I discovered SNOW, GLASS, APPLES through a haunting illustration by Sarah Coleman of the princess that led me back to Neil’s story. I love new perspectives on old tales and those that speak to human instincts. Instincts are such a basic, fundamental part of being human, and yet we often ignore them. The Queen does that in this tale; I’ve done that more times than I can count. I’ve made mistakes, I’ve been defeated. We all have. And I think this short story brings out a side of us we may not want to own up to—it talks about fear and failure, but also responsibility and integrity. Though Neil has made the Queen the protagonist, she hasn’t lost any of her edge or her darkness. Instead, with the perspective in her corner, we recognize that in ourselves.

I also love all the visual reminders of her fear in the story: the vampiric princess who keeps coming back to life, the princess’ heart strung above her bed, the forest folk disappearing, nothing is as it seems, reminders to look deeper. Think about it. What are you afraid of? It takes up a lot of your time and space. That’s our nature. And in Neil’s story, the Queen goes out to do something about her fear; whether she’s successful or not, she tries to survive it. Was it the right thing to do or not—that’s for each of us to decide.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Emily Yetter Will Make You Believe in Fairies

Posted on: Feb 17th, 2011 By:

From the moment she descends from the rafters in her pink tutu, her face perpetually peevish, it’s clear Emily Yetter is not your Uncle Walt’s Tinkerbell. No blonde beehive, sexy green mini-dress, ethereal flitting or delicate shoes—stomp, stomp. She’ll fly you into Neverland, but you’d better watch your back or she’ll have the lost boys shooting you down with an arrow. She don’t need no stinkin’ mother. Just ask Wendy.

A quirky-jerky politically incorrect anti-heroine is just what Tinkerbell should be, since the multimedia production currently playing under the big tent in Pemberton Place is J.M. BARRIE’S PETER PAN—an adaptation of the original play, not Disney’s nor Broadway’s reboot starring adult actresses sporting Robin Hood hats. British Three Sixty Entertainment has trumpeted the use of the world’s first theatre-in-the-round CGI projection screens that thrust the audience into flight alongside the boy who wouldn’t grow up. But while the special effects are awesome, what makes the staging so wonderful is the return to the original story and the way the cast embraces its whimsy wholeheartedly.

Emily Yetter as Tinkerbell. Photo credit: Ed Krieger.

The critically acclaimed production debuted in 2009 in London’s Kensington Gardens, the neighborhood where Barrie set the story, but Yetter joined the cast for its stateside debut in San Francisco last spring. An ingénue whose previous theatre experience has been in university and local productions, she’s been winning accolades from reviewers for her passion at petulance and talent at tantrums. ATLRetro caught up with her recently and coaxed her to share a few secrets about her magical experience getting locked in nursery chests, cavorting with lost boys, foiling a certain hook-handed pirate, and—of course—flying.

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