Cinema Toast

October is Scary Fun!

Posted on

For the month of October, my family reviews and re-orders our movie queue to include some good fun scares. We don’t do the slasher films—plenty of those on late night TV already.

We like to compose a Halloween medley of cinematic masterpieces that include both horror classics and contemporary frights. We invite our friends over, make a little popcorn, and then enjoy the fear fest. Last year we watched our Friday Night Frights on TCM, with a sampling of aliens, vampires, werewolves, and other creature features.

We enjoyed these 50’s and 60’s movies so much, that this year I’ve included Earth Vs. Flying Saucers (1956) and Rocketship X-M (1950). Also on board is the original 1951 film, The Thing From Another World. I loved the 1982 version of The Thing, which starred Kurt Russell and Wilford Brimley. With a new version coming out, I like to get a refresher for comparison.

What other movies made my short list?

Of course we have the monsters—The Mummy, both classic and recent. We included a variety of Frankenstein flicks, such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Young Frankenstein, and Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein. That should cover just about every way to look at the quilted beast. And we can’t have October without Van Helsing to meet our werewolf and vampire quota.

In case you wonder, last year’s The Wolfman impressed me. If you can, rent the edition that includes the original 1941 The Wolf Man, and watch them both. (You’re welcome!)

We want to keep the classic thrillers in the mix, so we added Hitchcock’s Life Boat, and Orson Welles’ 1944 version of Jane Eyre. We maintain a family tradition of enjoying the Halloween treat of Arsenic and Old Lace. I’ve seen it dozens of times, and I still giggle all the way through.

For some new classic tongue-in-cheek fun, rent The Lost Skeleton of Cadavara, The Lost Skeleton Returns Again, and Dark and Stormy Night, all by comic genius Larry Blamire and his crew.

My guys and I will enjoy a date night or two at the movie theatre as well. I want to see Dream House, which opens this first weekend, and The Thing, which has a mid-month release.

I could recommend many other suspense films. Hitch has dozens, with varying degrees of fright factor. M. Night Shyamalan created a few good ones, too. I loved The Sixth Sense and Signs, and while I enjoyed The Village, it is not scary.

There are plenty of monster movies to enjoy. If you need some crazy blasts from the past, you might like Once Bitten, Earth Girls Are Easy, Weird Science, or Teen Wolf, all from the 80’s. For the scarier side of the 80’s, catch American Werewolf in London, Poltergeist, and The Howling. The 70’s brought us creepy films like The Stepford Wives and Dracula.

What’s on your October list? Please share!

That’s a wrap for this toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading!

Cinema Toast

Music ♥ Loves ♥ Film

Posted on

Movies love music. Motion picture took its baby steps with a soundtrack. Even before the film incorporated sound, movie houses brought in musicians—pianists, organists, sometimes even full orchestras—to accompany the movie.

Music connects the audience to the story instantly, by pushing our emotional buttons. By linking visual images with sound, we receive cues about what is about to happen. Our hearts pump faster; we hold our breaths. We hunker down in our theatre seats and grab the hand next to us.

Picture a girl running from the beach into the gentle waves of the ocean. She’s carefree, enjoying a beautiful sunset swim. Now add a deep cello background. Duhhn-unmph. Duhhn-unmph. Duhhn-unmph. Yeah, she’s toast.

Try to imagine any great movie without music. It’s difficult.

I joke around with my kids about the music in ‘80’s movies, but what would Ferris Bueller’s Day Off be without “Danke Shoen” or “Twist and Shout?” How could Meryl Streep and Robert Redford fall in love without the tender scores moving them together in Out Of Africa?

Whenever I think about the Pirates of the Caribbean films, I hear the Hans Zimmer soundtracks. John Williams’ scoring for the Star Wars Saga is iconic. Sometimes when I’m angry, I pretend the Darth Vader music accompanies my march to confrontation. It’s most empowering.

Where would Bogey and Bergman be without “As Time Goes By?” That song played as big a role in Casablanca as Peter Lorre did. Speaking of the music as a character, I adore the owl mariachis in Rango. Their asides with the Spanish guitars and trumpets are hysterical.

When I write, I incorporate music into my stories, too. When I wrote about the pirate Jean Lafitte, I constantly listened to “Jupiter” from The Planets Suite by Gustav Holst. To me the music embodies a buoyant power and enchanting tempo, just like the gentleman pirate himself. My romantic comedy, Fake Jake, incorporates several styles of dance music, from ballet to disco to country western.

My older son composes music on his computer, and when I heard one of his songs last week, I asked if I could use it for a book trailer. You’ll hear it soon!

Music sets the tone, not only for the unfolding story, but for our minds as well. What are your favorite soundtracks? I want to listen, too!

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading!

Cinema Toast

The Movies in my Mind

Posted on

Since their invention in the 1880’s, motion pictures have grown into a commanding industry in the world economy and staked a permanent claim in our homes. They entertain and inform. They preserve our history. They make us laugh, and they make us cry. They call us to action. They touch and change our hearts. The compel us to dream.

I love movies. I say that often—probably too much.

Could I live without movies? Yes—and no. I can survive without watching another movie at a theatre or on TV. They aren’t the end-all, be-all of my existence. There are hundreds of things more important than watching my favorite actors carry on and make-believe.

However, the thing I can’t live without is story telling. It’s integrated and so ingrained in our human experience that a lack of story telling would create a vacuum I could not endure. Perhaps I wax a bit dramatic. Maybe they’ll make a movie about it.

I am a writer, not because I just want to be, not because I like to write, but because I must. Like an addict, I have pens and notepads tucked away in every imaginable place, in the off chance I’ll be stuck somewhere and need to write. Ideas don’t always arrive at opportune moments. Muses don’t keep schedules. Writers must tell their stories.

Movies create a wonderful canvas for words to live, move, and breathe. They raise characters to life and fill in details that might never have received their due attention. Movies bring worldwide focus to stories that might otherwise remain family legend. In movies, writers can be storytellers to a national village.

Motion pictures represent all the elements of a story. They introduce a setting, sometimes in a single shot. A storyteller can see that same shot in an instant in his mind’s eye, but to explain it might exhaust a thousand words. The hero appears on the screen. He’s everything the storyteller wants him to be, without page after page of adjectives.

In short, movies are magic for writers. The thousands of words are all written. The tears and sweat and late night worries have all been strained through the word processor. And suddenly, the car chase streaks across the theatre in digital clarity and Dolby surround sound—just as it appeared in the writer’s imagination.

Every story I’ve written is already a movie. You haven’t seen them, because these particular movies exist only in my mind as of yet. I see my characters and their homes and families and problems as clearly as if Josh Duhamel or Emma Stone lived them. I suppose most writers experience the same thing; we’re all a little odd that way.

I’m grateful to the writers, directors, and producers who take that leap of faith required to bring a story to film. I appreciate their willingness to share with us. I dream to one day do the same.

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading!

Cinema Toast

Movies that Become TV Series

Posted on

When do you know a movie is successful? When it transcends a
single two hour event and gets a weekly invitation into our living rooms.

Dozens of movies step from the big screen to the TV Guide,
for many different reasons, and with just as many results.

For some movies, the audience simply demands more, and the
producers eagerly capitalize on that thirst. Star Wars: The Clone Wars, The
Young Indiana Jones Chronicles
, Dirty Dancing, and Clueless
come to mind.

Some films, like The Highlander and Stargate,
present an intriguing character or plot idea that allows television producers
to develop in ways that a single film could not.

A few movies inspire TV series with their popular theme. The
Pink Panther
cartoon was less about the bumbling Inspector Clouseau, and
more about a cool pink cat. Stalag 17 inspired Hogan’s Heroes as The
Great Race
did the same for the Wacky Racers cartoon series. Though
neither series included the movies’ cast of characters, the basic plots
continued, but adjusted for a family audience.

Lots of movies share the distinction of jumping from theatre
to TV, such as The Ghost and Mrs. Muir to La Femme Nikita.
However, two other series stand out on my list.

In Buffy, The Vampire Slayer, writer Joss Whedon
takes advantage of the small screen to perfect his characters as he—and his
audience—preferred. Though the feature film was popular, most critics regarded
it as camp. Most of the Buffy fans that I know, disregard the movie
altogether, but I think that’s a shame. I absolutely adored Paul Reubens’ death
throes. That scene makes the movie for me. The television series dropped the goofiness (mostly) and kept the wit
and humor. The success of the series eclipsed the original film.

The real success story though, is a series that broke all sorts
of rules. In the 1970 film, M*A*S*H*, creator Robert Altman told the
story of a US Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War. The film
made a pointed statement on the heels of the Vietnam War.

In 1972 the producers of the TV series took that idea and
transformed a talented ensemble cast into a family. And the funny thing is, for
eleven years they became part of our family, too.

Though reportedly Robert Altman hated the series, the weekly
show defied typical television rules. In the first season, M*A*S*H*
finished forty-sixth in the ratings. Every year the show improved its
standings, and by the eleventh and final season, finished number three. The
series finale broke all TV records for ratings.

The core cast underwent a few adjustments over the years,
and dozens of guest actors eventually became stars. The story lines, many of
which were inspired by real-life soldiers’ accounts, developed the characters
into people for whom we sincerely cared.

We called them by their nicknames. We knew their spouses’ names. We knew their hometowns.

Though the show was set in South Korea, the stories focused
on relationships. We laughed at Klinger’s dresses. We cried when Henry Blake’s
flight home was shot down. We worried about Hawkeye’s drinking, womanizing and
cynicism. We made bets about BJ’s real name. We loved to hate Frank Burns and
sometimes hated to love Hot Lips. Radar’s ESP amazed us while his teddy bear
endeared us.

At times it seemed the cast took turns making us cry. After all, it was war.

If I had to pick a TV series (from a movie) to recommend for you to see, it would be M*A*S*H*,
but then again, M*A*S*H* may be my all-time favorite television series.

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema! Tell me your favorite M*A*S*H* memories, or tell me about a movie/ series that you love!
Thanks for reading!