Dale Sherman on Mr. Media

Dale Sherman, author of Quentin Tarantino FAQ: Everything Left to Know About the Original Reservoir Dog, was recently interviewed on MrMedia.com! Watch the interview here:

Quentin Tarantino is a man who came to Hollywood and didn’t break the rules so much as make plain that he didn’t even notice them. Making the films he wanted to see, Tarantino broke through with Reservoir Dogs in 1992 and then cemented his reputation in 1994 with the release of Pulp Fiction. As his fame grew, he spread his love for movies that are far from commonplace through his promotion of older films and theaters and by reviving the stalled careers of actors such as John Travolta, Pam Grier, and David Carradine.

Quentin Tarantino FAQ examines the movies directed by Tarantino, the influences on his work, and the inspiration he gave to others. There are also chapters on certain recurring elements in his films, from fake “product placement” to the music, actors, and even cinematic moments used. The book also reviews his work in television, the articles written about him or by him over the years, his acting career, his public battles, and some of the projects he abandoned along the way. It all comes together to tell the story of a man who forged his own unique path and helped shape the way movies are made today.

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Happy birthday, Peter Capaldi!

Today is Peter Capaldi’s 57th birthday! In honor of the latest Doctor’s birthday, Doctor Who FAQ author Dave Thompson has written a birthday post, detailing his thoughts on Capaldi’s portrayal of the famous television character.

PETER CAPALDI’S BIRTHDAY       

by Dave Thompson

The odds were always stacked against the Twelfth Doctor.

For a start, was he the Twelfth Doctor? Even before John Hurt’s “War Doctor” came along to throw out the numbering once and for all, the very fact that the tenth had been doubled was already throwing the chronology a bit.

Add to this the fact that Peter Capaldi’s reign not only followed that of the bafflingly popular Matt Smith’s, but also the show’s own (frankly untoppable) fiftieth birthday celebrations; add to that, the continued sense that show runner Steven Moffat has now switched his default setting to Unnecessarily Convoluted Storytelling mode; and add to that, the mold-breaking emergence of the first Doctor in a decade who isn’t simply older than the show, he’s also older than any of his predecessors (William Hartnell was 55 when he debuted the role; Capaldi was 56) . . . that’s a lot of baggage to carry.

As he commences filming on his second season, however, Capaldi has already conquered the most important task of all. He has convinced us that he is the Doctor, and not just within the realms of his personal, vociferous, fan club (the fate of at least two, and possible four of his predecessors).

A performance that is uniquely his own has also, and utterly without contradiction, been described as an amalgam of every Doctor who came first; First’s irascibility; Second’s humor; Third’s occasional resemblance to the magician who performed at your best friend’s fifth birthday party; Four’s uniquely alien outlook; Five’s . . . well, we’re still waiting for five to show up. But Six’s irascibility, Seven’s sense of mystery; Eight’s . . . okay, eight is still absent as well. But Eccleston’s toughness, Tennant’s charm and Smith’s flapping silliness can all be extracted from Capaldi’s DNA; and he has required all those qualities, too.

It is redundant to suggest that Moffat’s career as a writer is locked in irreversible decline, particularly where Doctor Who is concerned. But the truth is . . . true. The first three stories that he wrote for the series, The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances two-parter, The Girl In The Fireplace and Blink are routinely, and rightly, regarded as not simply the best tales told since the show returned in 2005, but among the best in its entire fifty year lifespan.

Subsequent creations could not maintain that quality, and often seemed set on upending it altogether; while the man who cast such razor-sharp eyes across simple human relationships via earlier creations Joking Apart, Coupling (both, tellingly, nominally sitcoms) and Jekyll is also responsible for foisting upon us some of the most cringe inducing romantic interests of the modern age: less Doctor Who, and more Who Cares?

That current companion Clara’s dalliance with “PE teacher” Danny Pink represents the most stultifying of them all was possibly the most heart-stoppingly dull of them all. Perhaps there are sound psychological reasons why the last ten year’s worth of Doctor’s companions have chosen to fall for the dullest blade in the knife box, but at least Mickey (Rose’s put-upon paramour) and Rory (Amy Pond’s pet rock) came good in the end, while even Donna’s ill-fated fiancé at least had the cojones to be working for the opposition all along.

The watery Pink, on the other hand, existed solely to provide the Doctor with an opportunity to indulge in further Mickey/Ricky mix-ups, this time by insisting that the math teacher taught PE; to push Clara into a series of emotional crises that were the least believable element of the entire series (and in a run that included the Moon being revealed as an egg; the legend of Robin Hood as an alien-induced hallucination; and trees as global fire-fighters, that’s quite an achievement); and to die, which we will get to in a moment.

Even more damagingly, not once were we offered any indication as to why Clara should care so much for the man. His persona is seen from just two perspectives – the Doctor’s scorn and disdain (which, unlike Ten’s constant mockery of Mickey, was not feigned), and his own tiresome PTSD induced sense of self-pity. Not once are we given even a hint as to why Clara should care any more for this bullying, over-possessive lunk than a fish would for a bicycle. Only once the season finale passed by did we understand why Pink was even part of the story to begin with.

It was so they could remake that whole Ianto/Cyber-girlfriend storyline from an old episode of Torchwood, of course. That, and the now inevitable insistence upon imbibing finales with a tissue box full of wearying lachrymosity. As if the death of Osgood, UNIT’s inhaler-wielding, scarf-toting hardcore queen of nerdish delight, was not shattering enough for the average viewer. As if the return of the Master, in the form of a fresh Mistress of Uber-camp Madness, was not breathtaking enough for the most trigger-happy channel-surfer. As if… as if we cared.

Capaldi triumphed over all of these things; and so did Clara, at least when she wasn’t being shoehorned into awkward clinches (and, via the Christmas special, even more awkward flashbacks) with the Pink thing. 

Indeed, no matter how high Capaldi soared as the season progressed, Clara soared likewise. Unquestionably, her sheer force of character convinced us that, at last, the Doctor had unearthed a force of nature capable of equalling even Rose (or Jo Grant, for any older viewers still watching). And capable, too, of delivering lines with such beguiling intensity that an entire generation is destined to melt every time they hear the words “run, you clever boy . . .” Or see a soufflé.

As an overall series, it wasn’t the best. At least three episodes (Into the Dalek, Kill the Moon, In the Forest of the Night) rank among the weakest deployed since the show returned, and it may or may not be coincidental that two of those were at least partially stymied by the frankly absurd science that underpinned them. Yes, we know it’s all make-believe, but if you’re setting a story on what claims to be the Earth that the rest of us live on, then make sure that basic physics don’t undermine the whole thing.

Of the others, Flatline, Time Heist and Mummy on the Orient Express were bold enough to withstand multiple rewatchings; Deep Breath was rewarding upon subsequent viewings; Robot of Sherwood was this year’s Dinosaurs on a Spaceship; The Caretaker was a glorious romp; Listen was a frankly terrifying notion that writer Moffat then castrated by trying too hard; and then it was time for the season finale.

Dark Water/Death In Heaven was the two-parter in which we finally learned the reason why past stories had been interrupted by Mary Poppins, before Poppins herself became . . . Well, cynics could point out that Missy is less a reincarnation of the Master than she is a pantomime revision of Moriarty, and there is truth to that. But she is also (like Moriarty) one of Moffat’s all-time classic villains; frighteningly insane, incalculably evil, and absolutely unmissable. The moment when she sweeps herself so elegantly backwards and calls out for “Doctor Chang” . . . if you didn’t have a Demented Nanny fixation before that, you do now.

And Capaldi? Capaldi matched her every step of the way, to emerge as strong a Doctor as he ought to be, and as likable a Doctor as he clearly doesn’t care to be. And, even better, unlike his last three regenerations, the man can’t even flirt properly.

Although you know that on the playground the following day, once the cries of ”exterminate” and “delete” had been exhausted, more than one juvenile would-be Lothario zoomed in on the girl of his dreams and declared “you look nice. Have you washed?”

Happy birthday, Peter Capaldi. And happy birthday, Doctor. May there be many, many more.

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Happy Birthday, Quentin Tarantino!!

Today is Quentin Tarantino’s 52nd birthday! Dale Sherman, author of Quentin Tarantino FAQ, has contributed a blog in honor of the famous director’s birthday!

A Generation on the QT

by Dale Sherman

00122479So, here we are – Quentin Tarantino, the iconic movie director, is turning 52. I can’t say anything about getting older – certainly not any slams about being able to get into movie at half-price now – I’ll be turning 51 myself within the next month. We’re all getting older, and while I’m fine with that, I’m not exactly jumping up and down about it.

Speaking of which, when writing my book about the director, Quentin Tarantino FAQ, I do admit to some kinship to Tarantino for the close approximation of our ages. Perhaps that misguided; after all, I’m not a movie director, an Academy Award winner, and I’ve never written a script that has been made into a film. But I felt that closeness none the less. And in a way that I think is one of the reasons his films are popular with a certain audience that I am apart.

No, I’m not talking about being a geek here. Sure, Tarantino has been obvious, even stubbornly proud of his background as a movie and comic book fan. As discussed in the book, he even at one time considered attempting to turn the Marvel superhero character Power-Man into a film, and most fans (if not general readers) know of his love for old martial art films and bloody, whacked-out action films. But that isn’t quite what I mean here.

You see, Tarantino and I – and many others around the same age – came to our understanding of the world, and in particular the world of entertainment, at the same time. The 1970s. Like it or hate it; having lived through it or only heard about it; it was an incredible period for kids to grow up. There was this in retrospect an inexplicable freedom in what we got to see and do, just in the movies alone. Tarantino has the drop on me by a year, but I too was a kid that looked at those newspaper ads in the paper and saw all types of twisted films playing at the drive-ins that filled my imagination with plots far more frightening than what I eventually saw on the screen when seeing the films later on video. Television ads in local programming would be pretty loose as well, and it was not unusual to see an ad for horror films like It’s Alive! or Ghetto Freaks while watching Gilligan’s Island in the afternoon.

Plus television itself was much freer, with PBS showing no objection to profanity or nudity (who didn’t remember seeing Valerie Perrine in the all-together in their 1973 production of Steambath, or in the later run of I, Claudius?) and even controversial language would pop up once in a while on network programming as well. Things were discussed that were never brought up on television or in the movies before, and there was even an attempt in society to legitimize pornography as something people could see in good health (that didn’t last very long, but it was there). All type of oddball things were being recognized in the media and we as young teenagers were the first to see it all.

And, bizarrely, we saw it all in the most innocent way possible. Most things seemed to have a gloss of “brand new” products, spiffy triplefeatureand weirdly wholesome in a way that disappeared as the 1980s moved in and we started seeing the ugly side of things that looked so good the decade before. Suddenly, drugs killed. Porn stars died in suicide or OD, Words hurt and could not be examined, but buried. Freedom was dangerous and needed to be restricted to upper-class white people at best. Even mixing music genres – a staple of early 1970s radio stations – became strictly regulated through the corporate take-over of the airwaves in the 1970s. Innocent was not so much gone, but bought out because it allowed people to do things for fun instead of for a price.

And we lost that. The kids that came later didn’t have anything to lose, because they never got to experience the power of freedom that was the 1970s. But those of us a few years older still remembered those moments. Which is why I feel a kinship with Tarantino. We may not have gone down the same paths, but the emotional elements of his body of work speaks to those kids from the 1970s. When we see Travolta as a dancing hitman in Pulp Fiction, we’re reminded of his work in Saturday Night Fever; a zoom on Uma Thurman while the theme from Ironside plays reminds us of the kung-fu movies we grew up watching in theaters and on television; stars of our past returning to leading roles in his films, like Pam Grier in Foxy Brown, merely remind us of how cool they were and still are. Words are used that were okay to dissect, even laugh at, in the 1970s that we’re supposed to feel shame in even discussing today.

You can see it in those films of the 1970s – things appear there from major studios that say to us today, “they’d never get away with it now.” We lost that, but we can still see it through the prism of Tarantino’s films – that reflection, that memory of what made the 1970s so cool.

As I said, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m trying to see a bit of myself in Tarantino due to having dug so deep into his history when writing Quentin Tarantino FAQ. But I can’t help thinking that I’m as close to the truth as I am in age to Mr. Tarantino. He’s of my generation, and I think that is one reason why his films reach so many like me today.

I can only hope he still has some more stories to tell us before he hangs it up.

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.