Category Archives: Hollywood

Interview: Jason V Brock on The Twilight Zone and The Group

George Clayton Johnson and Charles Beaumont, circa 1960. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

George Clayton Johnson and Charles Beaumont, circa 1960. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

Editor’s Note: If you are heading out to Comic-Con, and you wish to learn more about what we covered in this interview, go to a special panel, “Star Trek 50th Anniversary and George Clayton Johnson Tribute,” on Thursday, July 21st, 9:00 – 10:30 PM. Room: 9 upstairs inside San Diego Convention Center. Having written the first aired Star Trek episode, “The Man Trap,” George has secured his place within Star Trek as much as Twilight Zone.

Jason V Brock is a filmmaker, writer, editor, and artist. For this interview, I draw from Jason’s extensive knowledge of golden age television and pop culture. Among his work in film, he is known for his documentary on the writer Charles Beaumont (1929-1967), which is a rich source for our talk. At the same time, Brock’s academic work is just as compelling. I consider Jason a friend in the entertainment industry: we both share a certain sensibility. I hope you enjoy this concise version our geeking out on George Clayton Johnson and related things. We were both en route to a special tribute for screenwriter George Clayton Johnson that took place this February. So, it all makes sense.

In this interview, we’re chatting about that golden time in television that was “The Twilight Zone.” This is digging deeper into the background of the show and its key talent. For this talk, we’re focusing on George Clayton Johnson along with other members of what became known as “The Group,” which met from the early 1950s to the mid-1960s. Within that gathering of writers, the leader was Charles Beaumont. Some writers from The Group went on to write for The Twilight Zone.

HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: Jason, talk about Charles Beaumont, who remains something of a mystery: a great writer on the rise, dead at age 38. And then let’s shift to George, who also remains a mystery.

JASON V BROCK: There’s an interview with Charles Beaumont that was conducted by George Clayton Johnson. It was for a show called, “The Author and the Story.” And Beaumont recites from “My Fair Lady.” We include some of that in the documentary. If you can find that interview, it is well worth seeking out. Beaumont’s illness is a mystery. It does seem to come down to two possibilities: Alzheimer’s disease or Pick’s disease. I tend to think it was Pick’s disease as it fits in with what we know about Beaumont’s activity as he declined: slow and halting speech; a greater amount of impulsivity. What Beaumont’s friends believed was the main cause of Beaumont’s premature death was his routine use of Bromo-Seltzer, which had aluminum, a cause of dementia.

During this time that Beaumont was declining in health, he and George had a falling out. George was trying to figure out a new project. And they had a sort of disagreement. But, after a while, they mended fences. It was during that time that George discovered what was happening to Beaumont. Keep in mind that these were still young guys. The dementia started for Beaumont at around age 33.

Now, George will always remain a mystery. He was an enigmatic individual to be sure. A lot of people don’t know this but he was an underwear model for a time. He did whatever to make ends meet. He was, as he liked to say, “a dog without a collar.” He wanted to do things his way and succeed on his own terms. He was punk rock before that became a thing, and I admire that about him. He was a very intelligent person. He only had an eighth grade education. He was born in a barn in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He went through many phases. He was a beatnik and then became enthralled with hippiedom, and that aspect never left. He was a vegetarian. And he was involved with supporting the legalization of marijuana. Politically, he had more of a Libertarian ideal. He was also mercurial, open to new ideas, never crystallized in his mindset.

Ray Bradbury asked, “Who can explain the mystery of personality?” And I think George fits that perfectly. You could ask him one thing and he would answer back with the most unexpected things.

There was that aspect of overcoming the odds for George and his feeling a need to prove himself.

I look at The Group and think of it as the atom with Charles Beaumont as the nucleus. They’re all in different shells around Beaumont. The atom blew apart once the nucleus was gone. Everyone went in different directions. In the hierarchy, Beaumont was at the top. But, beyond that, in relation to success, was Richard Matheson in a role as mentor. Then there was Ackerman and Bradbury who were relatively older. What’s interesting is that Nolan and Johnson told me that they felt they were lowest on the totem pole in relation to the group. However, Nolan and Tomerlin were, in fact, closest to Beaumont. And then George was next to them.

George was more responsible. The three others did as they pleased. They would go to Monaco and crash a dinner for Princess Grace. They loved Grand Prix racing. They would run off and do all these things at the drop of a hat. Go hang out with Ian Fleming. George stayed home with his family. Richard Matheson stayed home with his family. George was one of the few who bought his house. He bought it early on and lived the rest of his life there. He hungered for that stability and security.

Considering those four core members, tell us more about John Tomerlin.

What’s interesting about him is that he was a catalyst for a number of things. He started in radio and that was his big love. He wasn’t really interested in television or film. The rest of the group dragged him into that. He was interested in competing and conquering. He was feisty. He became a bridge champion, and pilot. He was mostly in love with the Norman Corwin school of writing for radio. That’s like saying today that you’d like to write like the original Twilight Zone when we’re in the midst of Kardashian cult TV. It ain’t gonna happen!

Share with us more about other members of The Group. They seem to fade into the background and yet they’re all interesting in their own ways. There’s Chad Oliver, for instance, he seems pretty obscure but I come to find that he had his cult following.

Well, Chad Oliver really did enjoy science fiction. I don’t think that was where Beaumont’s heart was. It’s weird that Johnson and Nolan would think they were lowest on the totem pole since that was not true. After you move past the core, there are the top ten. Altogether, you could say there were thirty writers associated with The Group. If you’re thinking conceptually, outside of Bradbury, Beaumont was most influential closely followed by Richard Matheson. And then, after that, Nolan.

After that, it depends, as you give merit on a story by story basis. Stylistically, Beaumont was at the top. Followed by Nolan, and then Johnson. I would place Matheson at the bottom, as a stylist. His writing was very direct; he was not an atmospheric writer. His ideas and his characterizations are his strengths, and his novel way of looking at the universe. While Beaumont’s writing was more rich, a lot more substance to his delivery. Bill Nolan was a lot like that too, especially early in his career. Later in his career, his writing is more like Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler or Hemingway. He started in the style of Bradbury, as did Beaumont. George also emulated Bradbury. And then they moved on. Bill did a lot of television with Dan Curtis. Mathewson wrote a tremendous amount for television and film, beginning with Roger Corman. His writing lent himself to screenplays. He wrote about a hundred short stories and then switched to novels.

Talk more about the dynamics of what was going on behind the scenes of The Twilight Zone: Rod Serling and Ray Bradbury.

The Group would not have happened if not for Rod Serling. It was Serling who was the big shot in television. Ray Bradbury wanted to do that too. Serling came from the East Coast and steeped in great television, like Paddy Chayefsky. Bradbury has his side of the story of what caused the great rift between them–and we cover that in our documentary. I can see that it was jealously at play: Bradbury wanted what Serling had. But, The Twilight Zone, in fact, was always on precarious ground. Then there’s Night Gallery which left Serling without creative control which he regretted very much. Writers from The Twilight Zone went on to write for Star Trek and for Night Gallery. Nolan and Johnson both wrote a number of scripts for consideration on Star Trek. And, it was Johnson who wrote the first Star Trek episode aired, “The Man Trap.”

I can understand how Ray Bradbury would have felt that he could have done a better job than Rod Serling, even if that was not the case.

Bradbury would have directly said that. Serling got to the point too describing Bradbury’s style as best for the page and not the screen. Bradbury is more in line with Edgar Alan Poe. And that is more of an internal mode of writing. It is very difficult to transfer that onto a script. On the other hand, you can say Serling’s writing can be very talky. The modern equivalent to Serling would be Aaron Sorkin. Your mind is just snapping and crackling to that kind of writing. Serling was very much like that on his work for Playhouse 90.

Clusters of writers do crop up. You think of The Lost Generation Expats in Paris, The Lovecraft Circle, The Beats, The Group. It’s very hard, if not impossible, to form this bond online. You need that human connection.

Rod Serling is quite fascinating. And he did know what he was doing even if he had not been known for science fiction and fantasy prior to The Twilight Zone.

Yes, he had always been reading in the field. He had always been interested in science fiction and fantasy, reading it since he was a boy. He just didn’t have an outlet for it yet. He wasn’t a prose writer, that wasn’t his form of writing. He started in radio, just like John Tomerlin. Serling started writing from his direct experience in the war. He was in the Pacific during World War II. I recommend a memoir by Anne Serling, “As I Knew Him,” about her father. It is very well written. She describes how her dad wrote initially in a diary form to help him overcome PTSD. This would lead him to radio and, with his clipped style of talking, he was a natural for it. Later, he wins a writing contest for television. The writer who came in second was Earl Hamner Jr., who would go on to write a number of Twilight Zone episodes.

Indulge me and go even further into the background of the writing for The Twilight Zone. For one thing, everyone involved was hip to Weird Fiction.

If you break it down, story by story, what these writers were most interested in was Magical Realism. They didn’t really call it that back then in the United States. Bradbury had that aspect. Serling definitely had it. When you start looking at other writers from The Group, John Tomerlin and Jerry Sohl were much more interested in serious and realistic stories. So, it comes down to Nolan, Matheson, Beaumont, and Johnson.

They all loved F. Scott Fitzgerald. They all loved Hemingway. They could not help but admire Hemingway as he was the big force in writing at the time. Hemingway had that succinct style that fit right in with their interest in noir. They tapped into the Magical Realism in Faulkner. They all loved Poe. And they all loved Bradbury and wanted to follow in his footsteps and write for the pulps. Beaumont loved Lovecraft. He loved Dalton Trumbo’s “Johnny Got His Gun.” Had Beaumont lived, he would have pursued more work with social commentary similar to Rod Serling. It’s very interesting as to how it all came together as it did. It is something I’d like to write about in the future.

Thank you, Jason. As always, a pleasure. I look forward to our next conversation.

Same here, Henry.

Keep up with Jason V Brock by visiting his website for his work and that of his wife, Sunni K Brock, right here.

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Filed under Charles Beaumont, Comic-Con, George Clayton Johnson, Hollywood, Interviews, Jason V. Brock, movies, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Rod Serling, Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, William F. Nolan, writers, writing

Review: NVRLND #1 (of 4), published by 451 MEDIA GROUP

Wendy Darling gets the jitters about attending a new high school.

Wendy Darling gets the jitters about attending a new high school.

There is plenty to like about NVRLND, an exciting new comic involving wild teens and magic, published by 451 MEDIA GROUP. I’ve always said that a comic with a sexy element to it does best if it does not leave its brains at the door. This is a whipsmart sexy comic plus a lot more. It’s easy enough for a new publisher to fall into churning out exploitation content. 451 takes a different approach. Here goes: NVRLND is the sort of comic that promises and delivers a wild and interesting ride. It has a priceless scenario to kick off with: Set amid the underground music scene, kids are dropping like flies when they get hooked on the new designer drug, Pixie Dust, which makes them think they can fly.

NVRLAND #1

NVRLAND #1

Even if you really believe you can fly, is that enough to save you from sure death when you jump off a building? No, most likely you are going to die. That is exactly what is happening to kids in present-day Hollywood. Alexis, the mayor’s daughter, jumped to her death high on Pixie Dust. And so our story begins. Alexis had hooked up with Peter, the handsome young owner to the nightclub, Neverland. Peter had just taken the stage to perform in his band, The Lost Boys, when Alexis jumped from high above. Pixie Dust. Peter knows it is Hook, this mysterious tattoo artist, who is behind the Pixie Dust epidemic. It’s only a matter of time before the two have it out.

Leila Leiz’s artwork is quite stunning, full of life. The script by Dylan Mulick and Stephanie Salyers is genuinely clever and authentic. The whole creative team paints you an intriguing picture of the dark side of Hollywood! Yes, if this sounds oddly familiar, this is a brash and original “retelling” of the Peter Pan tale. As this first issue demonstrates, Hollywood, the land where you never have to grow up, is the perfect setting for this engaging story. For those who enjoy a narrative that faithfully uses local flavor, readers will enjoy the strong Hollywood connection. Overall, a fun and smart ride. It will be fun to see how things develop in this four-issue series.

NVRLND is available as of August 10th and is published by 451 MEDIA GROUP.

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Filed under Comics, Hollywood

Go See DE PALMA, a new documentary by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow

De Palma poster 2016

Irving Thalberg was the sort of person who cherished creative integrity. He was known as “The Boy Wonder” in Hollywood for his youthful looks and his uncanny ability to gather together the best scripts, the best talent, and the best means of production. During his time as the studio head at MGM, he gave the world such all-time classics as “Grand Hotel” (1932), “Mutiny on the Bounty” (1935), and “The Good Earth” (1937). It was a different time, to be sure: a certain level of quality was expected and valued by the general public. Imagine if Mr. Thalberg were alive today to witness the movie franchise overload we have all come to accept: endless superhero movies, endless sequels many times over and over.

It has gotten to a point where, as Matthew Jacobs writes in a wonderful piece for The Huffington Post, that the best days of major motion pictures seem to be far behind us. Well, truly worthwhile movies have become less and less the norm. At the start of the history of cinema, you could say there was a general higher standard of culture. People, as a whole, were better educated, were more well-read, and there was a greater common knowledge to share. That has been on a steady decline. However, it was within relative recent memory that big budget arthouse movies were still embraced in Hollywood. That brings us to my weekend recommendation. Go See DE PALMA (in select theaters starting June 10th), a new documentary by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, brought to you by A24 Films.

BLOW OUT - French Poster by Michel Landi

BLOW OUT – French Poster by Michel Landi

DE PALMA explores the work of one of the most interesting directors and screenwriters. Brian De Palma is associated with the American New Wave or “New Hollywood.” The films being made during this golden age of the ’60s and ’70s were innovative, cerebral, and subversive. The big deal was that the big studios were financing them! Today, you’d refer to this sort of filmmaking as “indie low-budget.” But, back then, being anti-establishment was the zeitgeist, baby! A certain level of the unconventional was expected and valued by the general public. Quality was indeed a high priority, the highest priority!

You can say that the original “Star Wars” (1977) is what got us on the wrong track. Because of the crazy success of that movie, studios became fixated with creating more and more movie events. It has taken a while, but the end result is now firmly in place: an endless cavalcade of movie events where quality is a low priority, if at all.

All this begs the question: What is it exactly that the general public expects and values today? Well, it’s a whole new ballgame with all sorts of media. But do we really want to say goodbye to thoughtful big budget movies and leave all the best production to perpetually satisfy the franchise machine? J.J. Abrams is great. But we could do so much more, right? I mean, we can do more if we think of big studio entertainment as having some obligation to create quality work for a mass audience. Is that sort of thinking just too 20th century? Or will the franchise bubble burst? Will the general public continue to steadily reject the endless franchise output? Well, the bubble still has a ways to go before it bursts. For now, spread the word on quality movies and support quality movies.

I’d love to know if DE PALMA is showing in your city. And, if you can, let me know if you went to see it. For now, it is not showing anywhere in Seattle but that should change soon. I prefer to see something special like this in an actual theater (so 20th century of me) but I might catch it On Demand or some such venue. By whatever means, I will see it and post about it.

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Filed under Brian De Palma, Hollywood, Irving Thalberg, movies

Book Review: REFOCUSING CHAPLIN

The Little Tramp off into the sunset. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

The Little Tramp off into the sunset. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

Aristotle speaks of the mimesis of the first order and the mimesis of the second order. When creating art, the goal is to distance oneself from the source. Mimesis of the first order is simply art imitating nature. Mimesis of the second order is art perfecting nature and turning it into something transcendent. That rule is certainly at play in the work of Charlie Chaplin. As Marco Grosoli points out in his essay on Chaplin, this was an artist keenly aware of his myth and in a unique position to go on to make great art from that myth. Marco Grosoli’s fascinating essay is part of a collection of essays from various writers on one of the masters of cinema, “Refocusing Chaplin,” published by Rowman & Littlefield.

There may never be another artist quite like Charlie Chaplin. However, his influence and relevance continues to evolve. And so that gives this collection of essays a great sense of urgency. In the same way that an artist of the first rank like Ray Bradbury could have anticipated social media some fifty years ago, so too did Charlie Chaplin foresee the power of a meme in a career that began over one hundred years ago. To say that Charlie Chaplin was beyond famous is an understatement. He reached the level of myth. It is not short of phenomenal that he continued to grow as an artist through a career that spanned the evolution of cinema.

Chaplin in 1941's "The Great Dictator"

Chaplin in 1940’s “The Great Dictator”

In Marco Grosoli’s essay, he examines the friction between two formidable myths in Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator,” from 1940. By then, Chaplin was more than ready to leverage some of his celebrity for the sake of his art. The timing could not have been more perfect. The difference between the myth of Hitler and Chaplin could not have been more extreme. As Grosoli indicates, Chaplin was not merely imitating Hitler. Chaplin was channeling the myth of Hitler. In that respect, Chaplin was getting at a greater truth. In a work that deeply explores the power of meme, Chaplin plays both the role of Dictator Adenoid Hynkel and a Jewish barber who looks identical to Hynkel. Dictator and barber are, in a sense, interchangeable. In the proper costume and context, everyone accepts whatever the Jewish barber has to say, dressed as Hynkel, even if it is the total opposite of what Hynkel would say. Push two extremes together, Grosoli suggests, and they strangely equate each other, form a perfect nothingness.

"Refocusing Chaplin: A Screen Icon Through Critical Lenses"

“Refocusing Chaplin: A Screen Icon Through Critical Lenses”

Essays in this collection feature a wide spectrum of themes including Marxism, feminism, gender studies, deconstruction, psychoanalytic criticism, new historicism, performance studies, and cultural criticism. This critical study covers a wide reach of films including The Circus (1928), The Gold Rush (1925), City Lights (1931) Modern Times (1936), The Great Dictator (1940), Monsieur Verdoux (1947), and Limelight (1952). This collection proves to be a valuable resource on one of the leading masters of cinema.

“Refocusing Chaplin: A Screen Icon through Critical Lenses” is a 250-page hardcover, published by Rowman & Littlefield. Visit them right here.

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Filed under Art, Book Reviews, Books, Charlie Chaplin, Critical Studies, film, Hollywood, movies, pop culture, Rowman & Littlefield

Chris Rock Leaves Big Shoes to Fill

Once upon a time, you could rely on one host for the Oscars, Bob Hope, who hosted for 19 years, a record that is never to be broken. No, not when we look upon Ellen DeGeneres, Jon Stewart, and Chris Rock as old-timers with each of them having hosted twice. No doubt, each would make a great host again, maybe as early as next year. Speculation is already brewing on who the next host will be for 2017. As for this year, the Oscars will be remembered for one thing: what Chris Rock had to say.

We once had the Bob Hope gold standard full of wry humor and brash for its time. Bob Hope told it like it was. And Chris Rock tells it like it is today. After all the mounting pressure from #OscarsSoWhite, Rock masterfully defused, and refocused, the situation with some passionate humor and honesty. He began by asking, “Why this year? Why now?” and then went for the kill, “In all those other years, we had more important things to protest about, like getting lynched!” His monologue was the highlight of the show, a message for today and beyond. As I had stated earlier, I was in a perfect vantage, the 25 Degrees bar in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, site of the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929. What I observed was a very attentive audience for Mr. Rock.

Making a political statement at the Oscars is far more challenging than it may appear. Chris Rock did it with skill and heart. He had been honing new material in the days leading up to his monologue and it resulted in something that ranks up with the best. The Oscars have that tradition of protest. It rarely works. However there are exceptions. The best, perhaps the first, is Sacheen Littlefeather refusing to accept the Best Actor Oscar on behalf on Marlon Brando for “The Godfather” in 1973. This was a protest over the treatment and depiction of Native Americans in the media as well as reaction to Wounded Knee. Talk about arguing for diversity! It is a graceful, articulate, and authentic moment, a far cry from the blather of today.

Chris Rock interviews Compton moviegoer

Chris Rock interviews Compton moviegoer

The 88th Academy Awards ceremony had a number of responses to the current outcry. One of the funniest had notable African-American stars Leslie Jones, Whoopi Goldberg, Tracy Morgan, and Chris Rock green-screened into nominated films. Leslie Jones steals the show as the bear from “The Revenant.” And Tracy Morgan follows with his line, “I’m a Danish Girl!” as he bites into a pastry. More to the point, a segment with Chris Rock interviewing moviegoers in Compton helped to demonstrate that the typical outcrop of Oscar nominated films like “The Big Short” and “Spotlight” did not resonate with a black audience.

In the end, Chris Rock rose to the occasion. He was presented with a significant moment in time, recognized it, and ran with it. On that night, he filled the big shoes of the likes of Bob Hope and left a pair of big shoes of his own.

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Filed under Chris Rock, Entertainment, Hollywood, Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, Hotels, Oscars, pop culture, Race, Race Relations, Racism, Travel

The Oscars and the True Meaning of Entertainment

Hollywood and Highland

Hollywood and Highland

I found myself in Los Angeles these last few days of February for a number of reasons. Let me put it to you this way, I was there as much to enjoy a day long visit to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art as I was for anything else. And, of course, I devoted a chunk of time to the Oscars. Here is the key to a lot in life: keep an open mind. Now, when it comes to entertainment, the more flexible you are, the better. I keep things to a broad spectrum, from the intellectual to the spectacle. That said, I’ll share with you some observations from this last visit. In the end, we can explore the idea of what it is to be entertained.

Gumbo Pot in the Farmers Market, Los Angeles

The Gumbo Pot in the Farmers Market, Los Angeles

Seattle is my home base. It is in this relatively small, yet bustling, city that various forms of entertainment are created by some very talented individuals in music, film, fiction, comics, and so on. And then there are just as many, perhaps even more, individuals involved in commenting on all this creative work. That’s something I am very sensitive to as I am both a creator and a commentator. Let’s just say I appreciate when the air has gotten too thick. Sometimes, you just want some frog legs at The Gumbo Pot in the Farmers Market, which I definitely enjoyed. And, to be sure, the level of discourse at tables was quick, smart, and unpretentious. If I say I am going to talk to you about the true meaning of fiction or entertainment, it’s in the spirit of an open discussion without the pretense. Please, we have too much of that.

Chris Burden's "Urban Light," at LACMA

Chris Burden’s “Urban Light,” at LACMA

It’s all about going from the specific to the general. Take the time to give one particular subject its due, focus on that, consider its merits, and then reap the rewards of entertainment and insight. I will compare for you two events in Hollywood that are closely related: a tribute to screenwriter George Clayton Johnson at the American Cinematheque this last Friday; and then some observations on the Oscars this last Sunday. I really wasn’t planning on doing this. I want to keep it light but offer you a few ideas. The best thing I can do is jump right in with some observations beginning with the tribute. Here, I want to make clear that much depends upon your understanding and knowledge.

George Clayton Johnson tribute at the American Cinematheque in Hollywood

George Clayton Johnson tribute at the American Cinematheque in Hollywood

If such things as the literary background of The Twilight Zone are new to you, then perhaps this will spark interest. I know a great deal about this subject, particularly the writers known as, The Group, from which much of this springs from. George Clayton Johnson was a key member of The Group. He had within his power the ability to write some of the most compelling magical realism. That’s important because, despite the many disadvantages he had in life, he was a writer with not only a vision but a determination. George went on to create some of the most iconic and beloved episodes of The Twilight Zone which is the gold standard for what can be done when melding the art forms of fiction and television. Don’t let yourself think that Masterpiece Theater holds the key. That is too obvious a venue. Actually, it is within The Twilight Zone, at its best, that you will find much that is stimulating and intriguing with great literary merit.

George Clayton Johnson tribute at the American Cinematheque in Hollywood

George Clayton Johnson tribute at the American Cinematheque in Hollywood

So, here you have this very special individual, George Clayton Johnson, who understood better than most, the fundamental inner workings of fiction. He took his insight, skill, and hard work and did what he did with it. He primarily wrote for television. All of his work on The Twilight Zone is remarkable. This led to him writing the first episode of Star Trek to be broadcast. Among other TV work, he wrote an exceptional episode of Kung Fu where the main character experiences a flashforward, as opposed to a flashback, to help him save his life. And, to cap it all off, George and William F. Nolan wrote the classic dystopian novel, Logan’s Run. Beyond those achievements, it is George’s life story that is inspiring. He was close friends with such greats as Ray Bradbury and Theodore Sturgeon. George was simply a man who loved to keep it simple: write what you believe in, give back to the community, love thy neighbor. The outpouring of love and admiration for George at this tribute was very moving. I had the opportunity to get to know George. I can fully understand how bright his light shines.

Chris Rock tells it like it is at The Oscars.

Chris Rock tells it like it is at the Oscars.

A couple of nights later, lo and behold, it’s the Oscars. Now, mind you, I did not have any set plans. How I wish my Comics Grinder credentials would have gotten me a press pass. Perhaps they would had I pursued it. I’ll tell you something, I am a keen observer and a friendly interviewer. I can easily adapt to any situation. This segues to what I did for Oscars night. Due to a few things going on that night, I found myself outside the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Let me back track a bit, a buddy of mine suggested that as a great spot to maybe see something going on. In fact, the plan was to meet up with him. I show up and, yes, it is a great spot, right on the corner of Orange and Hollywood overlooking that whole block of Madame Tussauds, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, and the Dolby Theatre.

25 Degrees at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel

25 Degrees at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel

Well, on that corner are a bunch of onlookers, of course. Shades of “The Day of the Locust.” I mingled for a bit. No one knows exactly what to expect, if anything. I then made my way into the Hollywood Roosevelt and 25 Degrees, one of the hotel’s seven bars. 25 Degrees is known for its gourmet burgers and onion rings, which I fell in love with. I patiently waited for a cozy table overlooking the bar and two big screen TVs broadcasting the Oscars. Chris Rock was doing his monologue. I saw any number of what appeared to be otherwise jaded industry folk carefully listening and giving way to outbursts of laughter. Just as I was assured by my hostess that I could have the table, this one lady sat down at that very same table. The hostess explained to her that I had already been given that table but I said it was alright. Sure, it’s the Oscars, I’ll share the table. Well, it was definitely for the best. The lady turned out to be an executive with a Mexican network. We ended up chatting about the decline of culture in general and the disturbing rise of Donald Trump.

Behind the scenes at the Oscars

Behind the scenes at the Oscars

It always comes down to the coveted issues of time and space. That table had a fixed value of one hour. You could not stay at that table beyond an hour. I sweet talked my hostess into letting me begin a new hour given that I had to share it. In the meantime, my new friend, the Mexican TV executive, had hoped that I could hold on to the table as she had wanted to return after a while. Well, there must have been a lot of discussion in the back. At first, yes, I could keep the table if I ordered more food. After having the delicious Patty Melt, and a half jug of Pinot Noir, I opted to start with a Dark and Stormy. Later, the supervisor negotiates with me. It turns out that the table really needs to be relinquished. If I am alright with moving to the bar, he will treat me to another drink. Well, that’s fine with me. And, well appreciated too!

Behind the scenes at the Oscars

Behind the scenes at the Oscars

We always hear the long-running jokes about the Oscars being too long. The crowd that night enjoyed every minute of it and would have been happy to see more. The high points were the Chris Rock monologue, the announcement for Best Actor to Leonardo DiCaprio, and the announcement for Best Picture to “Spotlight.” In between, and throughout, careful attention was given to each category. I ended up chatting a bit with other patrons at the bar. The consensus seemed to be that this was one of the best Oscars. I certainly found myself in a perfect setting. The bar, with its old-school charm, was impeccable.

Here I am in front of the American Cinematheque in Hollywood.

Here I am in front of the American Cinematheque in Hollywood.

One Oscar tradition never fails to move me. That’s when a tribute is given to notable members of the Academy who had passed away in the previous year. I was certain that George Clayton Johnson would receive a mention. While he wrote primarily for television, he also co-wrote the story that was the basis for “Ocean’s Eleven” and he also co-wrote an Academy Award nominated animated feature with Ray Bradbury, “Icarus Montgolfier Wright.” But he did not get his mention. That left a sad note hanging in the air. But it was still grand to be at the Hollywood Roosevelt on Oscar night. I can tell you, I can share with you, the fact that both nights, the tribute to George and Oscar night, were both magical. George is still remembered and people will enjoy his work whether they realize he wrote it or not. George will always be part of that magic that people seek out whether they know it or not.

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Batton Lash’s New Kickstarter: A VAMPIRE IN HOLLYWOOD

Batton Lash

Batton Lash, a comics legend in his own right, has launched a new Kickstarter campaign in support of his latest collection, “A Vampire in Hollywood.” You can join the campaign, which runs thru March 11th, right here.

Batton Lash Vampire in Hollywood

With a distinctive wit and style, Batton Lash has entertained readers over the years with the misadventure of “Wolff and Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre,” the only law firm that represents vampires, zombies, and other ghouls. Wolff and Byrd has subsequently been known simply as, “Supernatural Law.” It is a cross between Archie comics and The Walking Dead. It is definitely something different!

Press release follows:

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Oscars 2016: THE BIG SHORT

The Big Short

“The Big Short” is a movie that has earned its place among a unique set of movies that can really make a difference. Who knew that the more arcane details of the housing crisis and subsequent financial meltdown of 2008 could be rendered in an accessible and entertaining fashion? And with some of the best talent around to boot. I actually went to see this with my 19-year-old daughter. The roster of leading men and the offbeat intent of the movie made it very promising. So, it was about derivative swaps, well, okay then.

For anyone who has seen it, “The Big Short” not only delivers but leaves you feeling encouraged about the state of filmmaking today. I had assumed that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association would have heaped praise, and awards, upon it without giving it a second thought. It just goes to show what a heated race it is this year as we approach the Oscars on February 28th. It’s a hot race in the Best Picture category, and “The Big Short” is up against some stiff competition with the leading favorite, “The Revenant.” “The Big Short” is just the sort of significant movie that should win big on the big night.

The Big Short Adam McKay

Much has been said about this movie. Consider the spirited New York Times review here. I’ll give you my take on it. First off, it’s been a long time since the media has focused on the housing market and the major banks–almost as if nothing had happened at all. Sure, the news runs in odd cycles but it does leave one wondering. In fact, one of the points made in this film is the fact that the issues surrounding the financial crisis are far from resolved. How we got here, and why we don’t seem to learn, is at the heart of this story. The movie faithfully plumbs the depths of the famously entertaining nonfiction book, “The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine,” by Michael Lewis.

Prior to 2008, there were only a few key players in a position to read the handwriting on the wall. Their anticipation of an impending financial collapse, had something to do with insider knowledge and everything to do with seeing what would someday become the obvious. Their collective response was to use specialized hedge funds to bet against Wall Street! And so we see our story play out. Among these special key players who could see what lay ahead, there is genius fund manager Michael Burry (played by Christian Bale) who is willing to take his position of authority at the firm he works for to bet the farm. As the pressure mounts on Burry from his bosses to retreat, we see a study in rebellion with other people’s money.

The point was, and remains, that money is not as abstract as some would like to believe. It is ultimately other people’s money that gets manipulated, stolen, and outright lost. The powers that be, the major banks, continue to take those sort of gambles that present little, if any, consequence.

But it’s not just consequences that those in power manage to sidestep. As this film repeatedly points out, the corruption is deeply entrenched and the major banks are masters of deflecting blame. Mirroring the activist spirit of the book, the message here goes above and beyond buyer beware.

We have had a few exceptional films dealing with the housing crisis. What makes this film remarkable is its fierce vision, its commitment to keep you engaged. And its timing, in an election year, is perfect. To have a film of this caliber is such a great opportunity to further the discussion. An Oscar win for Best Picture would seem to be most appropriate. In fact, in some circles, this film is considered a front-runner for Best Picture. With “The Big Short” taking the Producers Guild of America’s top prize this last weekend, the odds could very well be in favor of this film taking the top prize at the Oscars.

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Filed under Hollywood, Movie Reviews, movies, The Oscars, Wall Street

Review: ‘A Year of Movies: 365 Films to Watch on the Date They Happened’ by Ivan Walters

Watching "Groundhog Day" on Groundhog Day! Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

Watching “Groundhog Day” on Groundhog Day! Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

On February 2nd, Groundhog Day, if it’s cloudy when the groundhog emerges from its burrow, spring will come early. If it’s sunny, then the groundhog will see its shadow and there will be six more weeks of winter. So goes the folktale. What better way to celebrate this holiday than by viewing 1993’s “Groundhog Day,” starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell? It’s an idea that totally makes sense to author Ivan Walters. He takes that even further by offering you a movie for every single day of the year. He provides vital info on his featured choice, a synopsis, plus an alternate pick. The book is entitled, “A Year of Movies: 365 Films to Watch on the Date They Happened,” published by Rowman & Littlefield.

It’s quite a brilliant concept. The trick is to find an explicit mention of a date in a movie. Inevitably, the date is either crucial to the plot or is part of a pivotal moment in the movie. For instance, say you wanted to view a movie that has a significant attachment to the day that this review is posted, January 18th. That date leads you to 1976’s “Logan’s Run.” and a pivotal scene. To quote the book: “Logan, Jessica, and the old man return to the city on January 18th, 2274 (1:43:40 to 1:56:39), for a confrontation that will change their world forever.”

Movies-Ivan-Walters

This book has a high fun factor to it. Many of the movies are within the last 20 to 30 years with a generous helping of older classics like 1941’s “Citizen Kane.” It is a refreshing and entertaining way to look at movies. It becomes an offbeat game anyone can enjoy while also providing insight. I like how the book kicks off with 1976’s “Rocky.” January is so symbolic, full of hope and fresh starts. I think of “Rocky” as that quintessential shaggy dog story about self-empowerment and beating the odds. Great idea to have set the big fight on New Years Day, January 1st, 1976. Not all the dates are so easy to spot. In the case of “Citizen Kane,” for example, it is attached to December 4th 1919, the date that Kane’s mistress-turned-wife has a nervous breakdown and ends her floundering career as an opera singer. Kane’s world steadily darkens from that point onward.

“A Year of Movies: 365 Films to Watch on the Date They Happened” is a 454-page hardcover. For more details, visit our friends at Rowman & Littlefield right here.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Entertainment, Groundhog Day, Hollywood, Illustration, Logan's Run, Movie Reviews, movies, pop culture, Rowman & Littlefield

Golden Globes 2016: Some Notes After the Big Party

Saoirse Ronan defiantly, and elegantly, posing to her left despite yells to pose to the right.

Saoirse Ronan defiantly, and elegantly, posing to her left despite yells to pose to her right.

First observation: The Red Carpet

You have to watch the red carpet coverage, at least some it, to start off your Golden Globes viewing. I watched the live streaming despite that French woman constantly yelling for celebs to shift their poses “To your right! To your right!” Wouldn’t an off-camera prompt have been so much better? I think it annoyed everyone, including such talents as Saoirse Ronan, nominated for Best Actress in “Brooklyn.” What awards has that French cameraperson won? Maybe she’ll win an award for her photo of Saoirse Ronan defiantly, and elegantly, posing to her left despite yells to pose to her right. I may have nightmares. No more “To your right!” in 2017.

Ricky Gervais, the gift that keeps on giving.

Ricky Gervais, the gift that keeps on giving.

Next Observation: It’s all about Ricky Gervais

Ricky Gervais seems to have become an overnight sensation from his hosting the Golden Globes which he peppered with his trademark scathing jokes aimed at the Hollywood elite. He was the host in 2010, 2011 and 2012. And now that everyone is in on the act, here are some of the best jokes from the Gervais monologue…

“I just want to go into hiding. Not even Sean Penn will find me.”

“What a role model Caitlyn Jenner is. She didn’t do a lot for women drivers but you can’t have everything.”

“‘Spotlight’ is great for speaking to the five percent of Catholic priests who prey on children. Roman Polanski called it the best date night movie ever.”

“I support equal pay for men and women. I am getting paid the same amount as Tina Fey and Amy Poehler got paid to co-host the Golden Globes. Not my fault they had to share the earnings.”

Jonah Hill and the bear hat moment.

Jonah Hill and the bear hat moment.

And then, the game changer, Jonah Hill upstages the salty Gervais:

It was to be a simple presentation for Best Supporting Actress with Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill until Hill stepped up as The Bear in “The Revenant.” Hill, wearing a bear hat, riffed about a lot things that were completely bleeped out. It began with Hill referring to a green ribbon he was wearing for Honey Awareness. That was followed by a close-up of a slack-jawed Jane Fonda. Is it possible that Hill was referring to the arguably hyped cameo by Fonda in “Youth”? That’s my guess but maybe it’s too esoteric. He definitely said something.

Rachel Bloom wins for “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”

What a refreshing and authentic acceptance speech. Bloom shared with the audience the fact her new show had been rejected left and right before the CW picked it up. I like Rachel Bloom!

Amazon wins for “Mozart in the Jungle”

Amazon is in it to win it. Happy to see this show get more viewers from this win.

The best thing about the Golden Globes is supposed to be that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association gets to give out well-deserved show outs:

“Son of Saul,” wins for Best Foreign Film.

“Mr. Robot” wins for Best Television Drama.

Lady Gaga wins for her role in “American Horror Story.” She sounded like she really wants to focus on acting.

Aaron Sorkin wins Best Screenplay for “Steve Jobs.” He made a point of saying how he did not expect to win. They all say that, of course, but still.

Denzel Washington wins the Cecil B. DeMille Award. I loved the introduction by Tom Hanks.

And there was a truly bear hat moment for Gervais later on in the show when he got to introduce Mel Gibson. It did not go well the last time he did that and so it went again. After giving it some thought, the best Gervais could say about Gibson was, “I would prefer having a drink with him over Bill Cosby.” Gibson’s response was, “Good to see Ricky every three years. It reminds me to get my colonoscopy.” Gervais’s response was long and bleeped out and appeared to have gotten under Gibson’s skin.

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