Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Homage to a Genre

Tammy (Jenni Baird), an artistically inclined local waitress, helps space alien Urp (Eric McCormack) track a bloodthirsty monster.

Alien Trespass
Directed by R.W. Godwin
Screenplay by Steven Fisher
Starring Eric McCormack, Jenni Baird, Dan Lauria, Robert Patrick, Jody Thompson, Aaron Brooks, Sarah Smyth, and Andrew Dunbar
88 minutes

By Robert Rosen

How much did I love 1950s sci-fi movies? I won’t count the ways. But I will say that I loved them enough to race home from school every afternoon that The Thing was on Million Dollar Movie, watch it five days in a row, and still get a thrill every time the hulking monster, played by James Arness, emerged from the alien spacecraft and threatened to wreak havoc in the Arctic. That experience alone, I think, provides me with the minimal qualifications necessary to review Alien Trespass.

I’ll begin by saying what Alien Trespass is not: A parody of 1950s sci-fi movies. It is, rather, a loving homage to the entire genre, a 21st century film made to look, feel, and sound as much as possible like a genuinely stupid, cheesy, 1957 monster-from-outer-space flick, like The Blob.

In short, producer-director R.W. Godwin, known for his work with The X-Files TV show, seems to have accomplished exactly what he set out to do. And though at times Alien Trespass is intentionally funny—how could it not be with Will and Grace’s Eric McCormack playing Ted Lewis, a scientist whose body is taken over by Urp, an alien lawman crash-landed on earth?—it also manages to be genuinely scary; the silly-looking one-eyed monster must be praised for sending chills up and down my spine more than once.

The filmmakers must also be given credit for indeed making me care about their ridiculously stereotypical array of characters, from Tammy (Jenni Baird), the courageous local waitress who saves the world, to put-upon Police Chief Dawson (Dan Lauria), to Ted’s sexpot wife, Lana (Jody Thompson), to the hep-talking teens, Cody, Penny, and Dick (Aaron Brooks, Sarah Smyth, and Andrew Dunbar). And though Alien Trespass did not exactly make me long for the good old days when such entertainment was routinely available for fifty cents at my neighborhood movie palace, it did make me want to run out and order a burger and fries at the local coffee shop, cholesterol be damned.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Most Morbid Myth, Maybe

A sample of the artwork from The 27s. Rolling Stone Keith Richards is not a member of “the 27 Club,” but his former bandmate Brian Jones is a charter member.

By Robert Rosen

The 27s: The Greatest Myth of Rock & Roll is an ambitious book with an identity crisis.

What manner of tome is this? That’s the question.

Could it be a coffee-table book? The slick artwork, glossy paper, and quality printing all indicate that this might have been the intention of its “creators,” Eric Segalstad and John Hunter. But it’s really a trade paperback that lacks the size and heft of a genuine coffee-table book. And though Segalstad and Hunter discuss in detail the numerous musicians—like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Brian Jones—who died at age 27, it’s not exactly about them, either. The book is filled with so much general rock history that “the 27 Club,” as it’s known, often gets lost in the background.

More important, to call this 27 Club “the greatest myth” of rock ’n’ roll is simply not true. It may be the most morbid myth, but it’s barely in the same arena as the holy trinity of Elvis/Beatles/Dylan, none of whom died at 27.

The 27s is a well-researched rock ’n’ roll overview that would work best as a reference book if it only had a table of contents and an index, and was divided into chapters. But with these essential elements missing, it can’t be called a reference book. It’s just a book that goes on for 310 pages. You can’t find anything in it. And even if you happen to stumble upon what you’re looking for, key bits of information may be missing. Take my John Lennon bio, Nowhere Man, for example. I heard it was mentioned in The 27s. And it’s true, in a way; there’s a reference on page 283: “Author Robert Rosen writes that after Lennon discovered Cheiro’s Book of Numbers…” But it doesn’t say where I wrote it. It doesn’t give the title of my book. Nor does the title appear in the bibliography, and that sort of thing is as unprofessional as the numerous proofreading mistakes throughout—the kind of mistakes a good copy editor/proofreader (one is credited) should have pointed out.

I think that writers and artists who have the wherewithal and courage to form a company to publish, distribute, and promote their own book, as Segalstad and Hunter have done, are to be commended. But The 27s serves as a good example of the many things that can go wrong with such a venture. It is, ultimately, a book that cries out for the guidance of a professional editor who could have helped shape and focus their very intriguing concept.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Way They Are

Palmer Van Dyke (James LeGros, at right) takes Sherman Black (Michael Shulman) for a wild ride.

Sherman’s Way
Directed by Craig Saavedra
Screenplay by Tom Nance
Starring James LeGros, Michael Shulman, Enrico Colantoni, Brooke Nevin, and Donna Murphy
97 minutes

By Mary Lyn Maiscott

Within the first 20 minutes or so of Sherman’s Way, I got tired of counting the stock characters: primarily, a young, uptight aspiring lawyer, named Sherman (who you instantly know will become downloose by the closing credits); his controlling, successful parent (in this case the mother, played icily by theater stalwart Donna Murphy); and the wacky catalyst for his undoing, a hirsute 40ish guy named Palmer (who may or may not be a former Olympian skier who lost the gold for the USA). As the film was also turning into a rather silly road-trip-cum-buddy movie—cool red roadster notwithstanding—I was almost outta there, but my fellow blogger Bob Rosen suggested we stay with it, apparently intuiting a gleam ahead. And he was right. The gleam came into view around the time that Sherman, having impulsively run off to sunny California (from grey New York, indicating New York is staid like Sherman?) to surprise his disenchanted girlfriend with his new impulsiveness, lands in the eccentric yet idyllic—in that movie way—indoor-outdoor lakeside pad, somewhere near Napa Valley, of Palmer’s friend D.J. (“I want to live there!” I said to Bob, who replied, “It’s a trailer!”)

Though falling into many clich├ęs, this movie has enough quirks and surprises (particularly when it comes to the inevitable reunion of Palmer and his estranged son) to make it an enjoyable light, and occasionally touching, comedy. Sherman, played by the boyish Michael Shulman, learns a few practical and emotional truths from crazy Palmer (James LeGros, of Ally McBeal, nearly unrecognizable under all that hair) and resourceful D.J. (Enrico Colantoni, of Just Shoot Me [something tells me these sitcom backgrounds came in handy]), though their arrogant, placid knowingness when dealing with the rich, inept—but sweet—Sherman is at times infuriating. And of course by the end of the film Sherman has helped the self-destructive Palmer inch toward maturity.

He has also, as if one odd couple were not enough, hooked up with yet another flaky partner, the babelicious, skinny-dipping Addy (Brooke Nevin). Apparently, that is Sherman’s way.