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!

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!

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Armageddon Films FAQ

After watching the trailer, we are more excited than ever for the July premier of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes! Here is what Armageddon Films FAQ author Dal Sherman had to say about the 1968 original film (as well as its many sequels): 

 

Planet of the Apes (1968)

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The Planet of the Apes series of five films (1968–1973), not to mention its various sequels, certainly have a place in any bookabout apocalyptic futures. It’s also a very downbeat run of films, seeing the rise of a new order with the apes that is in every way just as prejudiced and mad as the humans before them—plus, the world gets blown up at least twice. Even the fifth and final movie, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, which spends much of the film trying to suggest an alternate “happy” ending for the world in the future, can’t quite escape from the prede- termined insanity of hate and war in its final scene.

While terrible things do happen, and there are certainly ramifications for the characters once they ”arrive” after these events, the first film opens with the biggest “you’ve slept through it” moment in cinema history, namely because it’s supposed to be a mystery until the final moments of the movie. That mystery I already spoiled for you at the beginning of this book, but the reason behind it has not been discussed. At the beginning of Planet of the Apes, we have Charlton Heston as Taylor, an astronaut on a spaceship traveling away from Earth in 1972. Upon wondering what the future will be like and foreshadowing the daylights out of the whole “will the world be a better place?” thing, Taylor goes into hibernation with the other three astronauts. He awakens in 3978 with the ship having crash-landed in a lake and rapidly taking on water. Taylor and two of the others (the lone female astronaut died previously in the journey due to a malfunction with her hibernation chamber) escape the sinking ship and head to land. There they ponder where they are and what they will find on the planet that they assume to be in the correct trajectory for their ship, somewhere in the constellation of Orion.

They eventually meet up with mute and rather mindless human scavengers just as they are attacked by humanlike apes on horseback. One of the astronauts dies at the scene, another is eventually seen to have been lobotomized, and Taylor is shot in the throat and thrown in with the other humans in Ape City. (This brings to mind—are there other cities full of apes? Is this it? If not, how did they get away with calling their city Ape City? Do the other ape communities wince a bit at that? “Oh, why can’t we have a nice name like Ape City instead of being Monkeytown?” And, really, isn’t this a bit pretentious? We don’t see a lot of Human Village or Mankind Junction locations on the map, after all. Maybe a few Peckerwoods. But this is a huge digression. Sorry.)

After various adventures in the city, with Taylor trying to communicate with the apes and attempting to plead his case to those in charge, he finally breaks out and travels into the “forbidden zone.” What he finds is the Statue of Liberty and the realization that somehow the spaceship had returned the crew to Earth in 3978. Taylor makes the (as we later discover) correct assumption that mankind destroyed itself, resulting in the mute, simple-minded humans still left on the planet.

The reveal of the Statue of Liberty is the big shocker of the movie—the one discussed in the introduction that left the audience stunned in disbelief. Up to this point, the audience could center their reactions on the idea that the movie is essentially a metaphor of man’s inhumanity to those not like themselves (only with juxtaposition of apes being man and man being animals). Yet throughout the plot are sprinkled moments where there’s an underlying mystery to resolve: how did this world come into being? Taylor’s jump into the future allows for the surprise ending and could only be done if—up to that point—we have no awareness that this is Earth in the future instead of some unnamed planet in the constellation of Orion.

As it stands, the original novel by Pierre Boulle, La planète des singes (1963) isn’t even set on Earth—the protagonist lands on an ape-dominated, Earthlike planet, although in a final twist the protagonist returns to Earth to find it now run by apes as well (an element Tim Burton would return to in his 2001 adapta- tion). For this reason, and others in the novel, there is no mystery as to why apes are the dominant species; it is merely there for purposes of satire dressed in elements of science-fantasy. Thus, although the novel deals with the elements of the protagonist being hurled into the future and finding a strange new world waiting for him, there is no sense of some type of world-ending menace having hit Earth (or the Earth equivalent). It is only with the Heston movie that the point is driven home that Taylor missed the death of his world and has returned to see the results.

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A postapocalyptic Earth that we are not to recognize as such wasn’t new to cinema by 1968. Roger Corman’s Teenage Cave Man with Robert Vaughn (looking anything but a teenager or a caveman, even in his loincloth) had covered the same “shock ending” ten years before Heston and crew. The film also draws itself from the age-old science fiction plot of the battle-scarred lone male and female survivors of a nuclear war finding each other and becoming Adam and Eve (commonly referred to as a “Shaggy God” story, as per writer Brian W. Aldiss). Elements of this can be seen in episodes of The Twilight Zone as well, such as the episodes “Two” (featuring Charles Bronson and Elizabeth Montgomery as two enemies who must come together after the end of the world), “Probe 7, Over and Out” (which ends with nuclear war survivors becoming Adam and Eve), and even Richard Matheson’s “Third from the Sun” (featuring a group of people leaving a doomed planet to find Earth), just to name one program. Perhaps it is no wonder that Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling would cowrite the script to Planet of the Apes—its final twist makes the movie one long Twilight Zone episode.

Listen: Dale Sherman on Pop Culture Tonight

Dale Sherman, author of Armageddon Films FAQ, joined Patrick Phillips on “Pop Culture Tonight” recently to talk about zombies, contagions, aliens, and the end of the world as we know it!

>>LISTEN HERE<<

00333849smallerMankind has been predicting its own demise through various methods, from fables and religious scriptures to hard-core scientific studies since the dawn of time. And if there is one thing Hollywood knows how to exploit, it is the fears of Things to Come. Movies about the end of the world have been around since the early days of cinema, and Armageddon Film FAQ is a look into the various methods we have destroyed ourselves over the years: zombies, mad computers, uptight aliens, plunging objects from space, crazed animals, Satan, God, Contagions, the ever-popular atomic bomb, sometimes even a combination of these in the same movie!

Armageddon Films FAQ goes from the silent days of filmmaking to the most recent (literally) earth-shattering epics, from cinema to television and even the novels, from comedies to dramas, from supernatural to scientific. It also explores other aspects of the genre, such as iconic but unfilmable apocalyptic novels, postnuclear car-racing flicks, domestic dramas disguised as end-of-the-world actioners, and more – from the most depressing to the happiest Armageddons ever!

KISS induction into Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame

Guest BloggerDale Sherman, author of KISS FAQ and Armageddon Films FAQshares his thoughts on KISS’s upcoming induction into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. It’s also Paul Stanley’s birthday today!

As a KISS Fan, Should I be Happy or Angry about KISS and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

By Dale Sherman

 As some of you reading may know, I’ve written extensively about KISS over the years, from the days of fanzines back in the early 1980s up to biographical and reference books, such as the recently released KISS FAQ (available through Backbeat Books and bookstores everywhere).  In doing the promotional runs from the KISS FAQ book, one of the most common questions I got asked was about the band and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  More pointedly, why the Hall had not inducted the band until 2014 and what fans thought of it.

It was a question that really didn’t need an answer.  How did Alice Cooper fans feel about the Hall dragging their feet on inducting him?  Or the frustration fans of Rush had in the delays in getting that band into the place?  Right now, KISS fans are mostly beaming over the very recent news that KISS will be inducted in early 2014, while there are fans of bands such as Yes, The Zombies and others who feel mistreated for being passed over.  Of course, KISS fans now act insulted that fans of these other bands are grumbling about KISS being inducted instead … forgetting completely the times in the past the KISS Army grumbled just as loudly over the same.  Just the way it goes.

Of course, fans are of two minds about the reported induction forthcoming.  Those that are … well, ecstatic is not really the right word here – you won’t find KISS fans throwing parties and jumping up and down in glee over the news, after all.  Pleased, rather, would be the way many fans in the KISS Army feel about the news.  Then there is a vocal minority of fans who are angry over the announcement; not to mention hurt that the band has so readily accepted without complaint.  To them, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley merrily going along with this plan to join the Hall is the same as if Colonel Saunders joined PETA or Pat Robertson came out as an atheist.  It seemed anti-climactic and against what fans assumed about the band’s attitude.

Why is this?  Quite simple, KISS has never been about being part of the establishment, and we KISS fans liked them for that.

I let those reading who aren’t fans calm down from laughing at that last statement before I continue.  But I’m not just throwing out wild ideas here – yes, they may be considered as “establishment” as establishment can get – certainly in terms of readily admitting that they put out products to make money – but in reality KISS has never truly been accepted as the norm by Americans.  Never.  They started out as outsiders – a group that made fellow New York area musicians roll their eyes when they started in 1973, thanks to the makeup and the costumes, even if other band were doing the same thing at the time.  The parent record company, Warner, tried to talk Casablanca Records’ Neil Bogart out of supporting when the band was getting to release their first album in 1974.  Meanwhile, the mellow bands of the 1970s hated because they were too hard and outrageous, while the hard rock and punk bands hated as being too corporate and calculating.  Throw in the toys and lunch boxes and you had a good reason for teenagers to start hating them once puberty hit, while kids were never totally sure what to make of them (and certainly their parents hated them). Critics disliked them, hard rock fans got confused when the band did pop and disco, and the hipsters could never latch on to them in a way to see them as being something to hang their names.

Let’s face it, the pinnacle of the band’s acceptance in American Culture ran roughly ten minutes – between “Beth” becoming a hit and right before they won a People’s Choice Award for the song.  After that, there was no way anyone would acknowledge them as being cool, much more as being important to the development of rock music in the 1970s.  Sure, they helped change the face of how rock concerts, albums, fan-related activities, hard rock, and promotion were done in rock music, but their contribution typically gets ignored because there’s a gag-reflex when it comes to acknowledging their important role in musical history.

Just as well, KISS fans thought (and still think).  We’re united as one because we like this … thing no one else has to guts to believe in – this band full of clown makeup, special effects, and musicians telling a story on stage.  If everyone else can’t see through that to enjoy the music, that’s their problem.  We, the KISS Army, stand alone.  Paul sang in the song, “Crazy Crazy Nights,” “We’re a million strong,” and fans knew exactly it was about them as fans against the world.  And what is cooler than being the selected few against the ignorance of the world?

Hence, the sentiment behind the disregard about the Hall – a place that more than one artist has put down as being the ultimate sellout for rock musicians.  “They don’t want us?  Who wants to be pigeonholed as being important by the Hall?  That just proves that we’re right when the establishment doesn’t want us!”  Throw in rumors of a longtime battle between founder Jann Wenner (of Rolling Stone) and KISS, as well as a supposed blood oath against KISS by author and Hall Committee member Dave Marsh, and it just added fuel to the fire.  (Although, to be fair, this supposed conspiracy boils down to a lone statement where Marsh said he had done his “share to keep [KISS] off the ballot.”  Hardly the stuff of “Wrath of Khan” like calls of vengeance.)  Not to mention that Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley have both voiced opinions about not “needing the Hall” when past attempts to be in failed.  As many fans that would ponder about the Hall finally adding the band, just as many said that they didn’t want to see the band there.  Or, if offered, that the band should turn down the offer.  “Throw it back at them!  Give the Hall and those guys running it the middle finger!  They can come begging and we’ll prove we don’t need them!”

So were the rumors true?  Did the Hall have a problem with KISS?  If so, what happened that got the band inducted?  Better yet, that saw the band members readily saying that they’ll accept?  The most important step was the public voting that happened this year, which allowed fans to vote for which one of the possible inductees to go into the Hall.  Such voting was established the year before, and once it was clear that KISS won the vote of the possible inductees for 2014, it would be hard for the Hall to suddenly void the results, especially in the infancy of such a new procedure.  Even if Dave Marsh lashed himself to the mast of the building in defiance and Wenner threw bolts of lightning from his offices, it wasn’t going to make much of a difference – KISS was bound to get in after the votes came through.

Yet, even if they had not won – and it is true that Nirvana came in as a close second in that voting – in all probability, KISS was going to get in anyway.  Why so?  Because no matter what the vendettas there may be between those who run the Hall and the members of KISS, or that of the KISS fans, there’s one thing that matters a bit more.  It’s the same reason that I mentioned time and again as to why I thought the band would make it into the Hall in 2014:  It’s just too good of a deal to pass up for one and all.

As mentioned above, KISS released their first album in 1974, and thus we come upon the 40th anniversary of the band’s first album in 2014.  You can promote that in so many ways, from re-releases (such as planned vinyl reissues of many albums in 2014 from the band’s catalog) to books (Paul Stanley’s autobiography; to be released the same month as the induction ceremony in April 2014) to touring and other releases in both visual and audio formats.  What a way for the Hall to make a little bit of money off the rub by way of inducting KISS as well.  Just as readily, the band gets to internationally promote themselves and their anniversary by accepting the induction.  Everyone gets something out of it.  What is there to lose in this agreement?

But what about the hew and cry of all those involved?  The blood oaths?  The disdain of the band in being ignored?  Well, it’s not called show business for nothing.  Especially the business part of that term.  You may want to stab that guy over there in the back, but if he can help you make a little bit of money?  Let’s just say that in business, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and my enemy is being poor.”

So those fans who are upset over the band being inducted?  It’s understandable – you’ve found something that you can call your own, and (to wildly mix metaphors) it’s hard when everyone else suddenly jumps on the bandwagon that you’ve staked a claim.  Here we were for years following the thread of Gene and Paul as to dissing the Hall for not wanting KISS.  We were supposed to rise up and hate them for this, right?  Actually, no.  It’s good publicity, and that trumps personal feelings.  Gene Simmons has always stated that there’s no such thing as bad publicity; but to be fair, good publicity can be much more beneficial, thank you very much.

Therefore, the band will gladly make it to the show.  As to who will be there – that is the next controversy.  Will it be the band today, with Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer?  Or the original foursome?  As much as fans would like to think it’s all up to Gene and Paul, it’s really up  to the Hall, as has been the case in the past with other bands that has had replacement members over the years.  The Hall typically likes to see the original members of such bands reunite for the awards – publicly because it’s good to reward the people who were there at the beginning of things, but namely because audiences want to see reunions and it helps with ratings and getting .  So we’ll no doubt see Ace Frehley and Peter Criss up there with Gene and Paul.  Perhaps with the others in passing mention in the speeches, and no slight to these guys who have been in the band for nearly or more years than Ace and Peter, but that’s just the way it goes.

As to performing on the show, there has been some concerns as to how that will work.  Do they do it in costume and makeup?  If Thayer and Singer is there, will they wear the makeup and costumes of Peter and Ace?  Is it going to look like the fight scene from KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park, where the fake KISS fights the real KISS on-stage?  Although that would be fun, in reality the induction ceremonies haven’t been much into having people perform “in character” (Alice certainly didn’t when performing with the remaining members of the Alice Cooper Group when inducted a few years back).  Thus, such concerns may be moot – no need to worry about multiple “Space Aces” up on stage, as it’ll probably be the original four without makeup, with perhaps additional support from Thayer and Singer.

So in the end it’ll be as dry as possible when it comes to emotional concerns – the original four will get their induction, play a few songs, and that will be that.  Does it give some of the fans wanting to see some vindication to their anger over the Hall any satisfaction?  No.

But, once again, that’s show business.

Since 1973, KISS has recorded over 20 studio albums; been recognized as an innovator in rock presentations; witnessed a firestorm of rumors and controversies; remained a thorn in critics’ sides; and continues to surprise its massive fan-following, the KISS Army, with various career twists and turns. Moreover, many television shows, movies, toys and even comics have kept KISS a bigger-than-life name in entertainment for decades.

Yet with all that has been written over the years, there are subjects that fans have never put to rest when it comes to the “hottest band in the land”: What were the most significant concerts? Why did Phantom of the Park turn out that way? What were the best – and worst – album covers? How did the comics come about? And what the heck is a deuce?

These subjects and more appear in KISS FAQ – showcasing the good, bad, and the weird that has made KISS the legendary ultimate rock-and-roll party band, still going strong after 40 years. Accompanying this entertaining work of solid rock scholarship are dozens of rare images – from posters to live shots and beyond. Also included is a foreword by Bill Starkey, the creator of the original KISS Army.

Catching Fire Review

Guest Blogger: Dale Sherman, author of Armageddon Films FAQreviews Catching Fire, the second installment in the hugely popular Hunger Games series.

Catching Fire and the Reluctant Hero: a Review of the Movie

By Dale Sherman

 In my new book, Armageddon Films FAQ (Applause Books; available in bookstores and through online outlets), there is a chapter about dystopian societies in movies and audiences’ assumption that they have to be either pre or postapocalyptic.  For example, the 1975 film Rollerball starring  James Caan deals with a dysfunctional future where societal order is centered around corporate-sponsored deadly games that pacify the public and keeps them in their place until one lone player begins a revolution by defying the game.  (Why, yes, fans of The Hunger Games will believe I’m trying to set up a “Battle Royale gotcha” here, but that’s not my intent.  And if you’re not sure what I mean by that – read onward.)  Yet, although there are signs of a crumbling society in Rollerball, there is no clear indication that an apocalyptic event created this world; in fact, it appears that corporate and political factors came into play instead.  Yes, it is a dystopian society, but one cannot look at it and say that an “End of the World” event leads to or created from the events seen in the movie.

Naturally, one of the movies discussed in that chapter is the 2012 adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ book, The Hunger Games.  In that case, there is some basis of a nuclear event, and while that past event does not conclusively make the film a postapocalyptic one, subsequent events lean the series more towards fulfilling the requirements.  Certainly more so than its oft-comparison, Battle Royale – a Japanese novel (1999) and film (2000) dealing with a group of school children being sent to a remote island to kill each over by a government.  With the topic of The Hunger Games vs. Battle Royale discussed in more details within Armageddon Films FAQ, I’ll only state here that kneejerk reactions of Battle Royale fans to treat The Hunger Games as second-rate ripoff has made Hunger Games fans a tad touchy about criticism over time.  In my views, as much as I love Battle Royale and admire its exceptional dreamlike quality, I believe The Hunger Games series pays off in greater dividends as to character development and resolution.  Even so, the arguments continue.  Add in that fans of the series (like those for Harry Potter and Twilight) are dedicated, as well as it starring a popular young actress, Jennifer Lawrence, who is considered an icon in my home state of Kentucky, and you can see why I feel the need to walk on eggshells a bit when talking about the films.  No point in making enemies of strangers.

Even so, when my publisher suggested I review the second film in the series, Catching Fire, I was a bit hesitant, for I came out of the theater after the first film feeling disappointment.  It is not so much that I had a problem with the concept of the film (there have been far too many movies and books with the same theme over the years, after all), but rather the execution.  As much promise as there was in producing the film based on the popular book series, there seems something slapdash about the first movie, as if not enough care was involved.  Namely, heavy-handed visual shorthands done in the sense of both costumes and set designs distracted from my enjoyment of the first film.  We see a futuristic society full of several poverty-level “districts” that produce material for the Capitol, which is full of rich, spoiled people.  No harm in that – it’s a classic dystopian setup for science fiction (and a classic cliché of SF television shows, such as Star Trek (“The Cloud Miners”) and even Gallifrey on Doctor Who was hinted at being setup in such a fashion, and those were the “good guys”).  Yet, instead of finding an intriguing way to show a futuristic form of poverty, we get clichés of the Great Depression and images straight out of Coal Miner’s Daughter with Lawrence as a bow-hunting version of Loretta Lynn.  Meanwhile, those who live in the Capitol are merely 18th Century French Aristocrats by way of Ziggy Stardust and Space: 1999.  There’s no sense of a real world, merely pieces of these other words thrown together in order to evoke emotions geared from earlier films and television shows.  In doing so, the images are too thick; too brash; with a general feeling of someone hitting over the head with a message instead of wanting to articulate a truly unique vision of the future.  Thus, such a great opportunity missed. The topper for me occurred in the scene where the heroine, Katniss, was preparing in the locker-room to be sent up the tube for the game.  The room is spacious, with plenty of lockers for other contestants, but there is only one player.  The scene is about her last-minute preparations and concerns before the game starts, but instead all I could think about was the need for this very large room for one player.  Did the games used to have forty members on each team?  Is other training done there and that’s why they need so much space?  Thus, instead of concentrating on the emotion of the scene, the set-design instead makes us focus on just how really, really big it is and hurts the impact of the scene.  Nor was it the only scene like it that, in trying to place viewers inside this world, merely took them out.  Who can guess how many times we saw the gamemaker and drifted off to wondering about how he shaves every morning with that goofy beard of his?

Perhaps it was deemed as unnecessary to give the film more of a sense of wonder, as the plot of the first film is more about the emotional value of the fantasy being presented than any realistic concerns about how such a world developed in the first place.  After all, we’re told that all these districts manufacture goods for the millions that live in the Capitol, but each district appears to have roughly 200-300 people each (and evidently all the fuel needed by the Capitol can be performed by a couple of dozen miners with pickaxes).  The most important event of the year that involves the sacrificing of children and only a handful of people can bother to show up?  Or watch on the giant bigscreens?  Surely that can’t be all the people if the game is played up as being something “everyone” is watching.

Even characters in the film run into these clichés, in particular the other tributes, who are nothing more than cyphers with the exception of Rue – the young girl Katniss befriends in the game.  There is nothing to say about the others beyond them being ready to harm our heroes, other than their predestination to make longwinded speeches about murder at inappropriate times.  The only revelation given them comes in the last few minutes of the competition, with the sole survivor outside of the District 12 pair realizing that his entire life of training has amounted to nothing because the Capitol is ready to let the pair in a sense “cheat” in order to win.  For a brief moment – not even a minute – the film plays with becoming a teenage version of Network, with a tribute terminated because he’s “bad television.”  Alas, even for just thirty seconds, his story ends up sounding much more interesting than that of Katniss and Peeta.

The only true success of the first film was the casting.  Jennifer Lawrence turned out to be a perfect choice for the part of Katniss, although she has had little to do beyond appearing shocked and angry at various intervals (this should change in the final two films in the four-part series and a point I’ll get back to in a moment).  Josh Hutcherson, playing Peeta, impressed me with a role that seems simple but is much more complex – he is a character that the audience needs to feel uncertain about for a number of reasons and yet still must be likable.  The rest of the cast also throw themselves into their roles at 100%. Elizabeth Banks sinks so into her role as the vapid Effie, that I never even thought of where I had seen her before until I started this review and was surprised she had been in so many other things I have seen (not to mention that she manages to play the role in such a way that the character ends up being likable, even if she is creepy on the outside).  Meanwhile, Woody Harrelson may be playing to a stereotype he has played in other films, there’s no mistaking that he’s good in that type of role.  Even so, there is the solid casting of Donald Sutherland, who is then given little to do in the first movie.  Thus, even with that casting, there is still a sense that things did not add up to the sum of the parts.

With such thoughts, I went to see Catching Fire not expecting that the movie was going to produce anything startling new for me.  Certainly the plot of the second film had been done before, as the concept of the heroes from the first book / film having to rehash their previous adventure on a bigger scale in the sequel is standard fare.  (To give credit, Battle Royale cut to the chase in its first film by having previous winners who the government had become fed up with forced to “play again” in much the same as Peeta and Katniss do in Catching Fire.)  Catching Fire tries to at first misdirect that goal at first by showing the “victory tour” the two winners go on after the games, only to find that they cannot keep their true anger over the games and what they see on the tour from emerging in their appearances.  It’s an attempt to give the proceedings some gravity – this pair is stuck for life as figureheads for the government or else face causing problems for themselves, their families and even the public at large.  Yet, by doing so, the film stumbles out of the gate, as it is a long opening segment of the film that drags in the wake of audiences’ anticipation of the action they paid their $8.50 to see.  Of course, in having to format an immensely popular book series for the screen, one can forgive the filmmakers for feeling the need to satisfy fans expecting such scenes from the books, but a tighter script could have invested the same emotional impact and made the film a faster, smoother ride.

As one can guess, the growing tension between the Capitol and the Districts due to Katniss’ victory in the games leads to new gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), proposing a new twist to the game.  Katniss and Peeta will fight in the 75th anniversary edition of the game, along with previous winners.  Thus, the pair along with 22 others arrive at a new location for a new game where they have to fight each other along with computer-generated “natural” events that are designed to wipe out the tributes as time goes by as well.  Katniss then discovers that not everyone is what they appear to be, both inside and outside of the game, while working with a handful of other tributes to find a way to avoid dying.

The setup is a bit clumsy – way too many of the tributes are ready to work together when one would think survival would be the key.  Yet, the ending of the film and the plot of the subsequent final book in the series (and eventual two-part movie yet to come) makes clear that there’s more going on here than random chance.  Thus, the focus is not really about a time of “Most Dangerous Game” man vs. man nature, but rather man vs. society or even more so man vs. machine, what with the computer generated creates and weather conditions that are booby-traps for the tributes.  Fortunately, unlike the CGI dogs of the first film (which looks rather silly, to be honest), the animals and such seen in the second film work better.  (Although it does bring up one big question for the series – if those in control can conjure up deadly menaces at every turn, why bother having the tributes kill each other?  Wouldn’t it show more the hopelessness of the situation if every tribute was faced with the same hardships and had to fight the Capitol at a game they cannot win – it only stops when there’s a sole survivor, after all?  We’re supposed to be on the side of paranoia here, however, so the audience is obviously not supposed to think of such things during the course of the movie.)

Even so, the early slow pacing of the film and the subsequent quickness of everyone teaming together are two of the rare places where the second film in the series misfires.  Otherwise, the film is more interesting, with a crisper script and dialogue, than in the first film.  For example, It seems to me that someone realized they had Donald Sutherland in their movie and decided to write dialogue that simply oozes out of the actor in quiet menace that simply wasn’t there in the first film.  One particular character (who I won’t name so as to not spoil it) also is written in such a way that there’s no neon signs pointing to the character to say “Look out!  They are not what they appear to be!”  Points should also be given for allowing Peeta to stand more on his own two feet with ideas of his own, instead of the simple fall-guy of the first film.  (Not to mention that I’m always happy when a filmmaker gives Amanda Plummer another chance to show how good she is in the minor role of another tribute in the game.)

Of course, the film is really centered on Katniss and Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of this character, and she is just as good as in the first film, although I feel both films so far limit the actress inside of the role.  Katniss does things that progress the plot – no doubt about that – but most of the actions that affect the outcome are outside of her scope of influence in both films, and it is only in rash last-minute decisions that she triumphs.  Thus, Lawrence spends a lot of time having to stare off, looking at things she can’t control, and being misdirected, rather than showing the inner-workings of Katniss.

However, what looks like a weakness to the character is one that does hit rather hard with the ending of the second film with one of the better cliffhangers for such a series since The Empire Strikes Back.  In making that comparison, it springs to mind that there’s more to contrast between the two with their individual studies of an hero destine for greatness.  Both series deal with a character that discovers that they are a focal point to larger rebellions, but there’s a significant difference between the two.  In the case of Luke Skywalker in Empire, he attempts to break out of what is expected of him and through mishaps realizes that he is part of a greater story and must heed the role he is set out to be.  On the other hand, Katniss thinks of herself as being independent, only to discover at the end of Catching Fire that she is merely a tool for those with a bigger agenda.  At the end of Empire, Luke accepts his fate, is at peace, and ready to be part of what has been preordained for him; at the end of Catching Fire, Katniss finally realizes that she has been a pawn to everyone – even those who she thought were friends – and is ready to leap out of her skin.  And it is in those last seconds of the movie that we get the turn of the character’s arch – Katniss is finally starting to wise up and now will become even more of a wild-card in the conclusion of the series.

With Catching Fire’s ending, the series has redeemed itself a bit in my eyes from being what was essentially a timewaster after the first film to one that has me intrigues to see what they do in the final story.  It is definitely a case of that rare creature, the sequel that is better than the original, and certainly one that those like me who were disappointed with the first film should think about giving a chance.

Armageddon Films FAQ

Mankind has been predicting its own demise through various methods, from fables and religious scriptures to hard-core scientific studies since the dawn of time. And if there is one thing Hollywood knows how to exploit, it is the fears of Things to Come. Movies about the end of the world have been around since the early days of cinema, and Armageddon Film FAQ is a look into the various methods we have destroyed ourselves over the years: zombies, mad computers, uptight aliens, plunging objects from space, crazed animals, Satan, God, Contagions, the ever-popular atomic bomb, sometimes even a combination of these in the same movie!

Armageddon Films FAQ goes from the silent days of filmmaking to the most recent (literally) earth-shattering epics, from cinema to television and even the novels, from comedies to dramas, from supernatural to scientific. It also explores other aspects of the genre, such as iconic but unfilmable apocalyptic novels, postnuclear car-racing flicks, domestic dramas disguised as end-of-the-world actioners, and more – from the most depressing to the happiest Armageddons ever!