Listen: Leonard Pierce on Pop Culture Tonight with Patrick Phillips!!

Leonard Pierce, author of If You Like the Sopranos… talks with Patrick Phillips of “Pop Culture Tonight” about the portrayal of villains and criminals in television! Listen to their discussion about the rise of the antagonist!

>>LISTEN HERE<<

IYLsopranosThe best-loved crime family in America is just part of a grand tradition of mob movies, gangster flicks, great television dramas, and a sensibility that is part Sicily and part New Jersey.

If You Like the Sopranos… is the first book that starts with Tony and the gang in their humble homes in the Garden State and explores the astonishing amount of great films, TV shows, and other pop-culture wonders that any fan of the Sopranos will love. From The Godfather andBonnie and Clyde to The Wire, to lesser-known noirs, Jimmy Cagney classics, contemporary HBO dramas, Martin Scorsese’s best work, and even the rock’n’roll that inspired the classicSopranos soundtrack, this is the one book that every fan needs if he or she ever has to go on the lam.

Dale Sherman: Quentin Tarantino FAQ

Quentin Tarantino FAQ has arrived! In honor of the book’s recent release, Dale Sherman has released a blog post exploring Samuel L. Jackson’s involvement in Quentin Tarantino films.

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Samuel L. Jackson and his Journey through the Quentin Tarantino Universe

It is not uncommon for certain directors to gather a group of actors around him or herself to be used again and again in their films. Some of Hitchcock’s best films star either Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant, for example. Martin Scorsese used Robert DeNiro in several films before switching over to Leonardo DiCaprio in more recent  years. An Ingmar Bergman movie is bound to have either Max von Sydow or Liv Ullmann, or both, turn up in it. It’s certainly no different with Quentin Tarantino, who has kept a number of people working with him over the years both in front of and behind the camera. 

It’s understandable, especially in cases where directors such as Quentin Tarantino guide the entire production and steer the scripting themselves. They have a vision of how the film should look, and with that comes how they want the actors to perform and sound. Anyone that can’t do that certainly would have little chance of returning, while those that do will have already established a working relationship with the director. As for Tarantino, he and others have made clear over the years that he likes an actor who understands the rhythm of his writing, and who can propel that dialogue to another level with their performance. Some can at least fake it well enough to pass his judgment, while a small handful seem to be in sync with what Tarantino has in his head. 

There have been performers that have been used here and there – in fact, the cast for The Hateful Eight has enough returning actors to Tarantino’s movie universe (Michael Madsen, Tim Roth, Bruce Dern, Kurt Russell, Zoe Bell, James Parks, a handful of actors that appeared in his previous movie, Django Unchained) that it’s almost a class reunion. Yet one of the most prolific of these actors has been Samuel L. Jackson, with seven appearances in Tarantino-related movies. Nearly eight, in fact. And even a couple of times where the parts originally written for Jackson ended up not being the parts he ultimately played. 

The Quentin Tarantino FAQ book goes into more details about the various movies with which the writer/director has been involved over the years, as well as other aspects of Tarantino’s career. Such as exactly how Samuel Jackson has continued to thread his acting career through Tarantino’s films over the years.

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Reservoir_posterReservoir Dogs does not feature Jackson, although he did try out for the film. The assumption for years by way too many people was that he must have tried out for the part of Holdaway, Mr. Orange’s police contact and played by Randy Brooks in the film. Rumors also flew around that Jackson had tried out for the part of Mr. White – a part pretty much a done-deal for Harvey Keitel long before auditions began, as explained in the book.

However, in 2013, Jackson stated at a special screening of Pulp Fiction that he had actually auditioned for the role of Mr. Orange (played by Tim Roth in the film), only to leave the audition not sure if he even wanted to be in the resulting film if he had won the part. As he told Deadline: Hollywood after auditioning with Tarantino himself (“Samuel L. Jackson Lets Loose on Django, Tarantino, Slavery, Oscars and Gold Globes,” by Pete Hammon), “I thought he was just a really bad actor. I was like ‘Damn, these dudes are horrible.’ I look like I was overacting or hey have no judgment of what’s good and what’s not.”

After the film was released, Jackson congratulated Tarantino on the film’s success, which began the ball rolling for Tarantino to write a part in his next film specifically for the actor. But one film connected to Tarantino would introduce Jackson to Tarantino’s realm before that could happen.

True Romance (1993)

To make a long story short (but covered in more details in the Quentin Tarantino FAQ book), in the very earlyTrue-Romance-poster 1990s Tarantino had two scripts floating around Hollywood that he spent quite some time to sell – one was Natural Born Killers (1994) and the other was True Romance. It would be the money Tarantino made on the sale of the True Romance script that would help lead to the making of Reservoir Dogs, and the success of that film led straight to Pulp Fiction (1994). In the meantime, however, Tony Scott took over the reins on True Romance and hired Samuel Jackson for the short, but memorable, role of Big Don. Big Don is one of the criminals seen near the beginning of the film with Drexl (played by Gary Oldman) who argues in favor of a certain sex act before Drexl decides to end the party early by blowing Big Don and his associate away with a gun.

Jackson was already making a name for himself in Hollywood, thanks to roles in films by Spike Lee (a main reason why Jackson almost always gets interviewed by reporters when the feud between Lee and Tarantino is discussed), as well as co-star and smaller roles in movies like Jurassic Park and Patriot Games, so it’s no surprise he would turn up in a film like True Romance. Ironically, his first Tarantino-related film is the one not directed by the man, but that would soon change.

Check out the rest of Dale Sherman’s blog post here!

The Sound of Music 50th Anniversary!

Today is The Sound of Music film’s 50th anniversary! The film’s US release date was March 2nd, 1965. In honor of the anniversary, here is an excerpt from Barry Monush’s new book, The Sound of Music FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About Maria, the Von Trapps, and Our Favorite Things.

00123101When the Trapps Were Die Trapps

The First Cinematic Versions of the Trapp Story

Pretty much everyone who has worshipped the movie The Sound of Music is well aware that it first came to life as a Broadway stage musical. Less known is the fact that there are not one but two previous movies that cover the story of Maria and the Trapp Family Singers. Although both pictures did good business in West Germany, where they were produced (in 1956 and 1958, respectively), there was no great rush or desire on the part of American distributors to release them over here. The first picture, Die Trapp-Familie, did, however, play a very important role in the development of The Sound of Music, as it was screened by Mary Martin and her husband, producer Richard Halliday, and gave them the idea of a possible stage show, albeit one they initially envisioned consisting of the actual traditional songs the Trapps had sung, and not a full-scale original score. It was not until they approached Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II with the odd idea of the team perhaps contributing one new number that the more obvious idea came to fruition: why not have two of Broadway’s greatest songwriters create their own full score for the story?

2117739,zvp+zhJc1q9tL9rhxced78+KC+0J2tUgonBGucHykXn7Y6ndrWVt3TSkakTsbdK0YDjzV1xJTYwtQa_3w1eR_w==It was because of the eventual success on stage of The Sound of Music and 20th Century-Fox’s purchase of the rights to turn it into a movie that finally allowed some version of the German Trapp films to see the light of day on American cinema screens. Fox did not, however, picture the two movies (Die Trapp-Familie in Amerika was the second one) as separate “art-house” entities showing in select venues with their original German language soundtrack, instead wanting to present them to a wider audience. To this end the studio took the drastic step of not only dubbing the films into English but trimming out a great deal of footage (mainly from the second installment) and piecing them together as one movie, The Trapp Family. 

Godspeed, Leonard Nimoy

Mark Clark, author of two Star Trek books for the Applause FAQ series, pays tribute to both Leonard Nimoy and his most famous role.

00314873I knew it was coming. Leonard Nimoy was 83 years old and had been in declining health, suffering from chronic pulmonary disease. He had officially retired from the screen years ago, although he continued to make occasional cameo appearances, including in the two J.J. Abrams-directed Star Trek movies. Nevertheless, when word of the actor’s death arrived this afternoon, I was stunned. It seemed unreal, impossible. How could immortal face of one of the greatest entertainment franchises in history, a source of comfort and inspiration for millions of fans, really be gone? Wasn’t there some way to ship his body to the Genesis Planet for regeneration?

That’s when I realized that I was confusing Nimoy with his most famous character.

I was hardly the first to do this. Even Nimoy struggled to keep his personality separate from that of his Vulcan alter-ego, as evidenced by his two memoirs, one titled I Am Not Spock and a second titled I Am Spock. The confusion is understandable. Nimoy was not Spock, but Spock is Nimoy. Although created by Gene Roddenberry, the half-human, half-Vulcan first officer was animated by Nimoy’s personality – intelligent, unflinching, analytical, yet approachable. The actor improvised many of Spock’s trademark expressions and gestures, including the FSNP (“Famous Spock Nerve Pinch”) and the split-fingered Vulcan salute (derived from a rabbinic gesture of blessing); the character’s indomitable spirit was Nimoy’s too. And Spock, more than any other character, came to embody the essence of Star Trek.

Although Nimoy is gone, Spock remains. He stands as an eternal testament to Nimoy’s ability to craft a complex, nuanced, believable character.

However, Spock is far from the only testament. I wrote extensively about Nimoy’s life and career in my books Star Trek FAQ: Everything Left to Know About the First Voyages of the Starship Enterprise and Star Trek FAQ 2.0: Everything Left to Know About the Next Generation, the Movies, and Beyond. As I noted there, although none of them earned him fame, Nimoy authored several remarkable performances in television roles prior to Star Trek (on shows like M Squad, Combat!, and The Lieutenant) and he did the same in later, non-Trek movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). He also had a successful career as a writer, producer, and director, helming Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, along with the comedy smash Three Men and a Baby, among other pictures. Nimoy declined the opportunity to create what became Star Trek: The Next Generation due to the demands of his feature film career. And movies were only one of Nimoy’s pursuits. He was a restless, polymorphously creative individual who also enjoyed careers as a recording artist, poet, and fine art photographer.

The pressures that arrived with fame led him to alcoholism during the making of the original Star Trek series. But he eventually found sobriety, and in later years always seemed to have a smile and a handshake ready for fans and castmates alike – even his onetime rival, William Shatner, with whom he belatedly developed a deep and abiding friendship. I confess that it brings a smile to my face to picture Nimoy being reunited, somewhere, with DeForest Kelley.

Surely Spock must be embarrassed by the outpouring of emotions displayed by fans and colleagues today, following Nimoy’s  passing. But Nimoy, I’m certain, welcomes and appreciates all the affection.

 

Listen: Stephen Tropiano on Pop Culture Tonight!

Stephen Tropiano, author of Saturday Night Live FAQ talks with Patrick Phillips of “Pop Culture Tonight” to discuss the recent 40th anniversary celebration as well as take a look at the show’s history!

>>LISTEN HERE<<

00315538Television history was made on Saturday, October 11, 1975, at 11:30pm (ET), when Chevy Chase welcomed America to the first episode of a new late-night comedy series. With its cutting edge satire and cast of young, talented performers, Saturday Night Live set a new standard for television comedy while launching the careers of such comedy greats as John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, and Tina Fey.

Saturday Night Live FAQ is the first book to offer the show’s generations of fans everything they ever wanted to know (and may have forgotten) about SNL. Beginning with the show’s creation in the mid-1970s by Lorne Michaels and the Not Ready for Prime Time Players, SNL FAQ takes you through the show’s in-depth history.

 

Dale Sherman: Armageddon Films FAQ Update

00122479With the upcoming release of Dale Sherman’s latest FAQ book (Coming in March!), Quentin Tarantino FAQ, Dale is celebrating by going back to his previous books in the series to pull up some new details for readers! This week, he has provided additional information on Armageddon Films FAQ!

From the pages of ARMAGEDDON FILMS FAQ: Childhood’s End – the Greatest Apocalyptic Movie Never Made

The first chapter in my book about end-of-the-world movies, Armageddon Films FAQ, deals with ten classic apocalyptic novels that had never been turned into movies. To show why such books have remained landmarks in science fiction and horror, as well as why they keep getting passed over by Hollywood, the chapter takes on the voices of those arguing such points at a studio – with a reader giving details about the book, an agent pushing the project, and a studio bean-counter attempting to find all the reasons to avoid it. As mentioned in the chapter, although passed over, many of the novels had been cannibalized left and right over the years for various other apocalyptic movies, with Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End being a prime example for such usage. 

In September 2014, the cable network SyFy Channel announced that they planned to finally take Clarke’s 00333849novel out of that list, with a miniseries adaptation to be filmed in 2015. Having Matthew Graham, co-creator of Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, on board sounds intriguing (he also wrote the Doctor Who episode “Fear Her” but … well, he created Life on Mars, so let’s not hold it against him). However, the plot-points given by the cable channel seem to play the miniseries up as rather like a variation of V (what appear to be friendly aliens are anything but, and now humanity must fight the same alien race they once welcomed), but let’s hope that this is just shorthand for more than chase-scenes with aliens for six hours.

No doubt, when reviewing the book, the studio – in this case Universal – brought up several of the same issues as seen in this excerpt from Armageddon Films FAQ. As readers will see, my own conclusions are not quite what has come about, but time will tell if I’m closer to be right than they are.

Script Reader’s Analysis: For many years Arthur C. Clarke was considered one of the “Big Three” in Science Fiction, along with Robert Heinlein (Starship Troopers) and Isaac Asimov (pretty much everything else … okay, that’s a rare joke from this reader, but Asimov was prolific as a science author and Science Fiction writer, including I, Robot, which was adapted as a hit movie for Will Smith). Clarke (1917-2008) may not have been quite as busy as Asimov, but certainly contributed in abundance to the printed page, with written pieces on scientific advances as well as his short stories, novellas, and novels over the years. Best known is his collaboration with Stanley Kubrick on the movie and novel 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was originally pitched between the two as an adaptation of his short story, “The Sentinel,” although there are certainly aspects of Childhood’s End in the finish work as well. Besides 2001Childhood’s End and “The Sentinel,” Clark created some of the better known short stories and novels in the genre, from Rendezvous with Rama to “The Nine Billion Names of God” (an apocalyptic short story) to The Sands of MarsChildhood’s End has been seen as written by Clarke when he still had some aspects of wonder pertaining to the paranormal (beliefs he discarded later in life, although they led to his use of telekinesis as a plot-device in the novel), but namely his early conviction in the wonders of science and how advancements in the field can deem mostly positive instead of negative results. Although aspects of Childhood’s End could be seen as being gloomy, Clarke champions that such treks into the future could be of amazement and for the positive.

Check out the rest of Dale Sherman’s blog post here!

 

Dale Sherman: KISS Update

00122479With the upcoming release of Dale Sherman’s latest FAQ book (Coming in March!), Quentin Tarantino FAQ, Dale is celebrating by going back to his previous books in the series to pull up some new details for readers! This week, he has provided additional information on KISS!

In KISS FAQ I cover the making and ramifications of the notorious television movie, KISS Meets the Phantom of the ParkThe chapter of the book certainly held no surprises to readers in the acknowledgement that the movie contains wooden acting, a bizarre musical soundtrack (namely in the televised version; not as much in the later theatrical one), bad special effects, and a clunky script, but one myth that was put to rest was of KISS Meets the Phantom being one of the highest rated television programs of 1978. NBC certainly wished that had been the case, as they pre-empted a showing of their popular cop series, CHiPs for the movie in hopes of gaining a good chunk of young viewers.

It was a gamble that NBC needed, as they were floundering; the network had only two 00333153programs with ratings high enough to place in the top twenty-five programs of the 1978-1979 television season: the family-oriented drama about frontier life, Little House on the Prairie, and the police series CHiPs. Even so, a gamble on using the CHiPs timeslot earlier that October for a two-part showing of Rescue from Gilligan’s Island had earned a 40 share for NBC, making Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park in the same time the last Saturday of October a seemingly good risk.

However, when the ratings came out, KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park was nowhere near the Number One slot. It wasn’t even in the top 25 for the week. It finished at #45, leading to Variety , to proclaim “NBC had its worst Saturday of the year,” with the KISS movie being the reason. Its failure in drawing interest as a television movie was only the starting point of concern for those connected to the film, as it was about to be released as this type of filmic albatross in theaters overseas. But that story and other details about the movie can be found in the pages of KISS FAQ.

Check out the rest here!