My Top 10 BOND Songs

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LIVE AND LET DIE sung by Paul McCartney and Wings

LIVE AND LET DIE sung by Paul McCartney and Wings

The SKYFALL theme by Adele just won the Oscar for Best Original Song.   This is actually the first time a Bond film has won in this category, which is really cool.  Don’t get me wrong, SKYFALL is a great song, and it continues to grow on me, but it’s not my favorite Bond song. 

 Here’s my list of the Top 10 James Bond songs:

 10. A VIEW TO A KILL sung by Duran Duran

9. “You Know My Name” from CASINO ROYALE (2006) sung by Chris Cornell

8. THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS sung by A-ha

7. “Another Way to Die” from QUANTUM OF SOLACE sung by Alicia Keys & Jack White

6. DIE ANOTHER DAY sung by Madonna

5. THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN sung by Lulu

4. SKYFALL sung by Adele

3. THUNDERBALL sung by Tom Jones

2. GOLDFINGER sung by Shirley Bassey

1. LIVE AND LET DIE sung Paul McCartney & Wings

 

 And since all three of the Daniel Craig films’ theme songs made it onto my list, I guess I’m partial to these new songs.  All I know for sure is LIVE AND LET DIE was the first James Bond movie I ever saw— got to see it at the movies— and I loved the theme song then and I enjoy it even more today.

 Incidentally, LIVE AND LET DIE was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Song in 1974 but lost to “The Way We Were” by Marvin Hamlisch, the same song sung this week at the 2013 Oscars by Barbra Streisand honoring Hamlisch who passed in 2012.

 —Michael

My Oscar picks for 2012

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LINCOLN - my pick for Best Picture this year

LINCOLN – my pick for Best Picture this year

On the eve of the Academy Awards, here are my Oscar picks for some of the categories for this year’s movies:

Best Adapted Screenplay – Chris Terrio — “Argo”

Best Original Screenplay – Quentin Tarentino — “Django Unchained”

Best Original Song – Skyfall” from “Skyfall” — Music and Lyric by Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth

Best Original Score – John Williams— “Lincoln”

Best Film Editing – William Goldberg — “Argo

Best Cinematography – Janusz Kaminski — “Lincoln”

Best Actor in a Supporting RoleTommy Lee Jones — “Lincoln”

Best Actress in a Supporting Role- Anne Hathaway — “Les Miserables”

Best Actress in a Leading Role – Naomi Watts — “The Impossible

Best Actor in a Leading Role – Daniel Day-Lewis — “Lincoln”

Best Director – Steven Spielberg — “Lincoln”

Best Picture – Lincoln

If ARGO were to win Best Picture, I wouldn’t be disappointed in the least.  In fact, I’d be pretty happy since I really enjoyed it.

Some people have faulted LINCOLN for being boring and unemotional, but sometimes when a movie captures a moment in history as vividly as this film does, to me, it supersedes all else.  LINCOLN is a portrait, a work of art.  No, it doesn’t hit you over the head all at once, but sitting back and taking it all in, it’s all encompassing, thought-provoking, and deserving of Best Picture.

We’ll see how the Academy votes tonight.

Enjoy!

 —Michael

 

 

 

“Lost” scene from HORROR OF DRACULA

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Christopher Lee in a scene from the "lost" version of HORROR OF DRACULA.

Christopher Lee in a scene from the “lost” version of HORROR OF DRACULA.

 

This is a photo from the famous ending to the Hammer Films’ classic HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.

But if you watch HORROR OF DRACULA, you won’t see this scene.  Not even on a “restored print” version.  That’s because this scene exists only in a Far East version where it remains today locked in a vault somewhere in Japan.

Huh?

It’s a fascinating story, and apparently, it’s true.  In the late 1950s, Hammer Films routinely shot different versions of its films in order to satisfy different markets.  The most violent and graphic versions of their movies were made for the Far East and sent to countries like Japan.

The original ending to HORROR OF DRACULA , where Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing leaps off a table in Castle Dracula, ripping down the curtains, trapping Christopher Lee’s Dracula in bright rays of sunlight, and eventually holding two candles in the shape of a cross to force Dracula into the rays of the sun, where Dracula rots away into a heap of ashes, contains a more extensive decomposition sequence in the Far East version than what we see in the West.  In the lost version, Dracula is shown clawing at his face, ripping deep bloody gashes into his flesh.

This photo shows an early stage of decomposition which is not in the print we see today.

Supposedly, this is a true story, and there is indeed an uncut extended version of HORROR OF DRACULA out there which western audiences have never seen, locked in a film preservation vault somewhere in Japan.

In the past few years, there’s been a lot of buzz about this footage finally being released, but as far as I know, this has yet to happen.

This makes no sense to me.  I find it difficult to believe that Hammer Films itself doesn’t own this version.  You’d think they would have some legal rights over all the versions, and if they did, that they’d make it available, as it would no doubt earn them some money.

Let’s hope that someday soon this uncut version of HORROR OF DRACULA will be made available to audiences worldwide.

In the meantime, we have the stills to enjoy.

—Michael

Coming Soon! FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR By Michael Arruda

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For The Love Of Horror cover

Coming soon!

Here’s a sneak peak at the cover art for my new short story collection FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, due out soon by NECON EBooks.  Kelli Jones designed the cool cover featuring two wine glasses containing a little more than just wine.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR is my first short story collection, featuring stories written and published prior to 2004.  It’s a collection of short stories and a wraparound story that ties all the tales together.

It’s a love story, as the two main characters are involved with each other, but the characters in these stories constantly make bad decisions and act in ways that are contrary to developing solid, lasting relationships.  What’s the theme here?  If you want to have a successful relationship, you don’t want to act like the folks in this book.  This is a collection of tales that describe relationship failures.  It’s an anti-love story.  Yet, like the rest of the world, the people in these stories are involved in relationships.  They have no choice.  It’s what people do.  They just don’t have a clue how to do it.  Well, most of them anyway.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR describes relationships that are as ugly as your most grotesque horror story.  It’s not for everyone.

TWILIGHT, it ain’t.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR will be out shortly by NECON EBooks, available soon at www.neconebooks.com.

Stay tuned to this blog for more news on this collection.

—Michael

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel likes “Death Takes the Phantom”

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Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel likes "Death Takes the Phantom"

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel likes “Death Takes the Phantom”

NEWS FROM THE CASTLE:

In case you missed it, my short story “Death Takes the Phantom” came out last week in DARK MOON DIGEST Issue Number 10. 

 That’s fellow author Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel in the photo.  She enjoyed the story a lot and then was thoughtful enough to take that incredibly cool promotional picture of herself holding the book.  Honestly, I can’t think of a better way to promote the story than with a neat photo like this.  Thanks, Sheri!

 DARK MOON DIGEST Issue Number 10 is on sale at DarkMoonDigest.com as well as at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million.  It’s available as both a print edition and an e-publication version, the latter of which comes in both Kindle and Nook formats.

 It’s $7.95 for the print edition and $2.99 for the e-publication version.

 The story “Death Takes the Phantom” is the tale of two beings who play with the fates of classic horror superstars Lon Chaney Sr. and Bela Lugosi.  Inspired by true events!

 Enjoy!

 Michael Arruda

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956)

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FORBIDDEN PLANET

FORBIDDEN PLANET

Here’s my latest SPOOKLIGHT column, now up in the HWA February Newsletter, on the 1956 science fiction classic, FORBIDDEN PLANET, featuring Robby the Robot and a pre-comedic Leslie Nielsen.

Enjoy!

Michael Arruda

 

  IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

BY

MICHAEL ARRUDA

 

Being cooped up this winter has put me in the mood to take a trip– to the FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956).

Yep, today we’re entering the world of science fiction, a genre which most of the time goes hand in hand with horror.

FORBIDDEN PLANET is one of the more celebrated science fiction films from the 1950s, and it’s certainly one of the more colorful, filled with elaborate sets and eye-popping special effects, the latter of which were nominated for an Academy Award in 1956 but ultimately lost out to Charlton Heston and THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956). 

FORBIDDEN PLANET is also famous for featuring Robby the Robot in his first film role. 

It’s the 21st century, and a spaceship under the command of Commander J. J. Adams (Leslie Nielsen) arrives at the planet Altair on a mission to check on a previous expedition which had landed there years before.  Once on the planet, Adams and his crew are met by Robby the Robot who greets the space travelers and takes them to his owner, a scientist, Dr. Edward Morbius (Walter Pidgeon). 

Morbius explains to them that he is the last surviving member of the expedition which had originally landed on the planet, with the exception of Robby the Robot, which he built, and his daughter Altaira (Anne Francis).  Morbius also explains that the members of his crew were all murdered by a ferocious creature, which strangely, later disappeared. Hmm, sounds suspicious to me!

It doesn’t ring true to Commander Adams either, and during the course of their stay, his crew is soon attacked by the invisible creature which makes a triumphant return.  Adams presses Morbius for more information, and the scientist reveals to Adams his discovery of the remnants of an alien race known as the Krell.  By using their machinery, Morbius was able to increase his intellect, which is how he built Robby, and also why he remains there on the planet, to learn as much about the universe as possible using the Krell’s abandoned technology.

This is all well and good, but Adams is most interested in protecting his crew from the unstoppable monster that seems intent on visiting their camp each night and killing as many of them as possible.  How does one stop an invisible creature?  That’s what Adams has to figure out, or else he and his crew will never be able to leave the FORBIDDEN PLANET.

Even though it’s loosely based on Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” FORBIDDEN PLANET has always been for me a visual feast that’s somewhat lacking in the story department.  Cyril Hume wrote the screenplay, and while the story itself is adequate, it’s nothing to get excited about.  Plus, I find Commander Adams and his crew terribly dull, and Dr. Morbius a thorough bore.  Anne Francis as Altaira is very easy on the eyes, and Robby the Robot is probably the most interesting character in the entire film.

It plays like an episode of the original STAR TREK, only less fun since Commander Adams and his friends are nowhere near as entertaining as Kirk, Spock, and Dr. McCoy.  Like STAR TREK, the film is cerebral and thought-provoking, but unlike STAR TREK, it fails to instill much emotion. 

That being said, FORBIDDEN PLANET clearly influenced 1960s science fiction TV shows like STAR TREK and LOST IN SPACE.  The visuals used to depict the deceleration booths on the spaceship are reminiscent of the visuals used for the transporter beams on STAR TREK.  And the conversations between Robby the Robot and the human characters foreshadow the banter between Dr. Smith and the Robinson Robot on LOST IN SPACE

The influence of FORBIDDEN PLANET goes beyond 1960s science fiction.  When Morbius takes Commander Adams and his men on the tour of the underground Krell world, the visuals— some of the more impressive in the film— bring to mind the interior of the Death Star in STAR WARS (1977).  I almost expected to see Obi Wan Kenobi lurking around the corridors.

 Sure, the special effects in FORBIDDEN PLANET are dated by today’s standards, but there’s still something incredibly fun and awe-inspiring about Altair, the underground Krell world, and Robby the Robot. 

As much as I liked Leslie Nielsen in his later years when he enjoyed his “rebirth” as a comic actor in AIRPLANE (1980), THE NAKED GUN movies, and all the other spoofs he appeared in, his leading man shtick here is pretty wooden.  He’s hardly an inspiring commander. 

 Walter Pidgeon is also sleep-inducing as Morbius.  He’s your standard misguided mad scientist that we’ve seen in countless other movies, the genius with good intentions who just can’t seem to see inside himself and realize that his good intentions have gone awry.

 Anne Francis fares the best as Altaira.  She’s sexy, and her lively yet innocent personality is all the more refreshing because she’s surrounded by a bunch of one-dimensional space explorers.  Also in the cast as crew member Chief Quinn, is Richard Anderson who would go on to play Oscar Goldman in THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN and BIONIC WOMAN TV shows.

 FORBIDDEN PLANET was directed by Fred M. Wilcox, most famous for his first hit, LASSIE COME HOME (1943).  FORBIDDEN PLANET was his only genre film.

 Robby the Robot was designed by Robert Kinoshita, and in addition to appearing in FORBIDDEN PLANET, Robby also appeared in the B-Movie THE INVISIBLE BOY (1957).  Robby went on to become one of the most recognizable robots in the history of the movies.  He also appeared in the LOST IN SPACE Season 1 Episode “War of the Robots” where he took on the Robinson Robot in one of that show’s more memorable episodes.

 There’s also a unique electronic music score by Louis Barron and Bebe Barron which is innovative and futuristic sounding, even if it does get to be annoying after a while.

 FORBIDDEN PLANET could certainly have benefitted from a stronger story, more interesting characters, and some human charm.  But you can’t go wrong with the imaginative special effects or the real star of this one, Robby the Robot.

 If you’re in the mood to visit a strange new world, check out FORBIDDEN PLANET, but be forewarned that a hungry invisible monster with an appetite for humans happens to call the place home. 

 —END—

ROCK OF AGES showcases 80s music and brilliant performance by Tom Cruise, but dull story drags it down several notches.

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Rock of Ages

Blu-ray/DVD Review:  ROCK OF AGES (2012)

by

Michael Arruda

The 1980s. 

Ah, the memories!  From the music— Journey, Foreigner, Pat Benatar— to the hair— hey, it’s Linda Hamilton!— to the clothes and the stars— Ah-nold will be right back— to the pure fun—  ah, the good old days!  And the goofy musical ROCK OF AGES (2012), which I recently caught up with on Blu-ray, captures these memories like a snapshot, but nostalgia can only carry a movie so far, especially one with a dull plot like this one.

Young, idealistic Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough) arrives in Hollywood in 1987 to become a star—yawn, wake me when we get to a real plot.  She meets and becomes involved with a young singer Drew Boley (Diego Bonata) who sets her up with a waitressing gig at the famous Bourbon rock club, owned and operated by Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin).

The Bourbon club is in huge financial trouble, but Dupree plans to save the club by booking the final performance of famous rocker Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise) an event which should make the club lots of money.  But this isn’t as easy as it sounds, as Dupree has to deal with constant  public protests led by outspoken Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the wife of Los Angeles mayor Mike Whitmore (Bryan Cranston), who believes the club and rock and roll in particular are sinful things that are poisoning society—cliché, cliché, cliché— as well with Jaxx’s unscrupulous manager Paul Gill (Paul Giamatti) who’s always looking out for just one person, himself, not to mention Jaxx himself who is constantly in a drugged out daze and is the embodiment of the eccentric demanding superstar- a monkey named “Hey, Man” plays a prominent role in his entourage.

It is against this backdrop that Sherrie and Drew try to make names for themselves as singers and musicians, while at the same time they sort out their feelings for each other.

By far, the worst part of ROCK OF AGES is its lame brained plot, laden with clichés and familiar situations, with a story that provides no real conflict.  The screenplay by Justin Theroux, Chris D’Arienzo, and Allan Loeb is nothing more than a standard vehicle in which to feature 1980s rock music.

Do I really care if young Sherrie and Drew make it as singers in Hollywood?  Absolutely not!  They are both incredibly dull, the least interesting characters in the movie.  They have no depth and no real problems.  They struggle to make it in Hollywood because everybody struggles to make it in Hollywood.  There really isn’t anything special about them.

Then there’s the even worse subplot involving Patricia Whitmore’s attempts to shut down the Bourbon club. Nothing that comes out of Whitmore’s mouth resonates in any way, as her dialogue consists of one empty platitude after another.

Now, I get that ROCK OF AGES is supposed to be a silly and playful, in the spirit of the classic goofy musical, but silliness works best when it’s built on truth.  If Patricia Whitmore had anything real to say, then her over-the-top subplot would have worked because at the base of it all you’d be saying, “I hear what she’s saying, so that’s pretty funny.”  Instead, you’re left with “that’s all she’s saying?  That’s not funny.”

It’s a wasted role for Catherine Zeta-Jones.  In fact, the A-List cast— reduced to supporting roles to begin with— is largely squandered, with the exception of Tom Cruise, who’s terrific.

Bryan Cranston has it even worse than Jones.  He’s has so little to do here he might as well have been  replaced by a mannequin.  Why bother paying a top actor to appear in such a do-nothing role?

Paul Giamatti is fine as Stacee Jaxx’s slimy manager, Paul Gill, but come on, this is such a typecast role for Giamatti.  He just did the same shtick but with more conservative clothing in THE IDES OF MARCH (2011) where he played the slimy campaign manager who messed up Ryan Gosling’s character’s career.  Giamatti is a better actor than this and hopefully will have some meatier roles soon. 

Alec Baldwin fares better as Dennis Dupree, the manager of the Bourbon club, even though he looks like a lost hippie belonging in the 1970s rather than the 1980s.  Still, Baldwin gets some of the better lines in the movie, and for those fans who have enjoyed his performance over the years as Jack Donaghy on TV’s 30 ROCK, the film provides one more venue to see Baldwin strut his stuff.

I also enjoyed Russell Brand as Dupree’s partner Lonny.  Brand’s close to hilarious in his brief screen time here, and he definitely livens up the film when he’s on screen.

The two leads though, Julianne Hough as Sherrie Christian, and Diego Bonata as Drew Boley both fall flat and fail to impress. 

Hands down, the best performance in the movie belongs to Tom Cruise as rocker Stacee Jaxx.

There are two reasons to see ROCK OF AGES:  the rock music soundtrack, and Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx.  Not being a Tom Cruise fan, I was surprised at how amazing his performance really is in this movie.  In terms of making an impact, I’d say it’s an even better performance than his fine work in JACK REACHER (2012), a film I really liked.  While Cruise’s Jack Reacher is a grittier and more realistic character than Stacee Jaxx, and perhaps ultimately a more satisfying role, there is something in Cruise’s Jaxx that is truly mesmerizing.

Cruise transcends his traditional persona, steps out of his comfort zone, and creates in Jaxx a haunted wounded rocker who has no business being in this lightweight movie.  It’s really an excellent performance.  He’s better than anyone else in this film.  I was impressed.

The soundtrack includes songs from such 80s artists as Journey, Foreigner, Pat Benatar, Quarterflash, and Jon Bon Jovi.  The music is a lot of fun, especially if you lived through the 80s, as it brings back lots of memories.

The musical dance numbers are OK and for the most part didn’t really impress me all that much.  The two best numbers both feature Tom Cruise, “Wanted Dead or Alive” which he performs with Julianne Hough, and “I Want to Know What Love Is,” clearly the hottest number in the movie, in which Stacee Jaxx and Rolling Stone reporter Constance Sack (Malin Akerman) engage in hot sex on a pool table— at least as hot as a PG-13 rating allows.

With ROCK OF AGES, director Adam Shankman has made a colorful musical filled with nostalgia for the 1980s, but on the other hand he skimps on the characterizations, the dance numbers, and any sort of edge that may have lifted this one above the fray.

As a result, ROCK OF AGES is a mixed bag.  It features a knockout performance by Tom Cruise that in all seriousness shouldn’t be missed, and a lot of fun 80s tunes, but dragging the whole thing down is a dull plot that is difficult to sit through, along with  characters that are about as deep and rich as a Phil Collins song.

You might be better served to listen to an old vinyl album instead.

—END—