IMDb: Crimson Peak

Crimson Peak

Director:  Guillermo del Toro
Starring:  Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain
Runtime:  1 hour, 58 minutes
[R] 2015

A mysterious outsider grabs the attention of an independent young female aspiring novelist; pulling her away from a childhood friend and her family and leading her to a house with a deadly history.

del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) has brought back the classic moody ghost story; something that we see far too few of now. Relying more on the story’s gothic style, suspense, and outstanding set decoration (as opposed to outright gore) he’s presented an enjoyable ‘throwback’ film.  

Brings to mind films such as “Gaslight,” “Notorious,” and  “The Uninvited” – all classic (and more subdued) works from years ago. Absolutely beautiful, brimming with original style, stunning visuals, and more than its share of creepiness.

My rating:  9 out of 10.


Life can be short, AND beautiful

WaxwingLife has some amazing suprises for you.

This past weekend, my wife discovered a beautiful baby Cedar Waxwing that had either fallen, or been ejected, from its nest. She carefully cradled the bird in her tshirt as she walked home, rescuing it from baking in a hot parking lot.

‘Piglet’ was the closest I came to naming it (after discovering that the appetite of a baby bird is almost humorously frightening).

However, to name it would not have been appropriate:  I had no delusion about the end goal – we wanted to see it fly away to establish its own life, sharing it’s songs with the neighborhood.

Unfortunately, those plans were derailed by health issues (which may have been the reason behind its being out of its nest in the first place). It wasn’t strong enough to survive in this world, and was forced to leave us today.

This morning, the songs were missing and the activity was almost nil. She/he was saying goodbye.

In five short days, it brought songs to our porch – and joy to our family. Now those songs belong to the angels; but its wondrous short life will always be part of our us.

Bye, Piglet.

Kill Your Darlings – Radcliffe throws off the Potter image

Kill Your Darlings

Daniel Radcliffe surprised me in this film – I was ready to really dislike it – and him – in what I initially felt would be a lame attempt to revisit the early era of the original beat poets. As it turns out, I was impressed, and will admit that I seriously underestimated the talent that this young man has going for him.

Mind you, I’m a huge Harry Potter fan… and I unfortunately pigeon-holed Radcliffe into that role, and was unwilling to let go of my prejudice when it came to him taking on the role of the legendary poet Allen Ginsberg in “Kill Your Darlings.”

Combining elements of a murder mystery with a coming of age story, it is set in the 1940’s at Columbia University in New York City and based on true events. The film documents the meeting of three of the founding Beat authors:  Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William S. Burroughs:  brought together through a mutual association with a young man by the name of Lucien Carr. Three men on the verge of reinventing American literature and poetry, stumbling through their own emotional and creative issues.

The murder of David Kammerer – a man obsessed with young Carr – is the focal point of the story. Kammerer apparently followed Carr from city to city (today we call them stalkers).

Carr’s mother moved him from one school to another, in an attempt to protect her son – until he ended up at Columbia University in New York City where the infamous trio of future beats come together.
The idea that, if not for Lucien Carr, the three legends (Ginsberg/Kerouac/Burroughs) may never have met – that’s the facet of this story that I find most fascinating. If you have even a passing interest in the work of the Beats, this film should definitely be on your viewing list.

The chemistry between Radcliffe as Ginsberg and Dane DeHaan as Lucien Carr, is at the core of this film. Radcliffe steals the movie.  I would never have envisioned him as Allen Ginsberg – and apparently this part was an on again / off again role that he ended up nabbing after the film’s initial production began to fall apart.

The one point about this film that does sort of bother me, is the screenplay.  Watch the movie. Afterwards – read the Wikipedia entry about Lucien Carr. Not sure which came first…

After the events in the film, Carr ended up as a long-time editor for UPI, largely staying invisible in relation to the Beats. His son, Caleb, ended up becoming a bestselling author (“The Alienist”). In fact, the first edition of Ginsberg’s epic poem “Howl” was dedicated to Carr – until Carr requested his name be removed from future editions.

Director: John Krokidas
Producers: Michael Benaroya, Christine Vachon, Rose Ganguzza, John Krokidas
Screenplay: John Krokidas, Austin Bunn – Story by: Austin Bunn

RIP Blockbuster – Thanks for the memories

It was 1985. Late summer.

I had just finished a DJ’ing gig at a hotel during the summer (along with a few other part-time jobs at the same time).

Getting ready to head back to Lansing, Michigan (and hopefully to my previous position at a local club there), I got a call from a friend of mine, Jeff.  He had moved down to Dallas and was apparently having a good time, but missed familiar faces. At his invitation, I hopped a plane down to Dallas,  to take a brief vacation before returning to the world of the gainfully employed.

Dallas was great. Lousy public transportation, but some seriously great night life. This was 1985 when clubs were providing – what are now illegal – substances, as you paid your cover to enter.  From mild to wild – whatever your taste, there was a club for it.

As my two-week stay was winding up, I started wondering about staying in the area. Jeff checked with his landlord, who ok’d my sticking around for an extra week in pursuit of employment.  I’ll never forget the morning I sat down at the breakfast table and found the ad for video store clerks at some unknown operation called “Blockbuster Videos” (it was plural back then).

It was perfect. I was a frustrated, unfulfilled filmmaker with a serious background in film studies from a community college in Michigan (where I also programmed the student film series).

So first thing Monday morning – I called them and setup an appointment to come in and speak with the interviewing team; next thing I knew, I had to find a blue polo and tan dockers – as I had been hired (over the objections of the manager of the store). Seems I impressed the president of the company’s ex-wife (who happened to be running much of the company at that point in time.

For the next five years it was an unbelievable whirlwind. Initially, I was a video store clerk. Then they moved me to their national distribution center in Garland, where I became their inventory control supervisor, responsible for over 1 million video tapes being picked, packed and shipped around the country. (Needless to say, my partying on New Year’s Eve was screwed for the next few years). In addition, they had me create an in-store cross-merchandising brochure for the stores – to assist employees with connecting people with lesser-known films, based on their rental history.

Then came demographic purchasing; as stores opened, a demographic report would come back to me in the warehouse and I would be responsible for locating and purchasing films designed to make a store more “friendly” to its neighborhood (Jewish, Spanish, Gay/Lesbian). This grew into becoming their buyer for spanish-language films – which required me to watch literally hundreds of Mexican / Puerto Rican / Spanish / South American films – and ensuring the appropriate culture was represented in new (and existing stores).  Oh – and can’t forget the synopsis database:  those little descriptions on the VHS cassettes?  The first 10,000 or so were written by myself and a good friend, Gordon K. Smith.

On top of all of this – I got to know one of the most incredible people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting:  the founder of Blockbuster, Mr. David Cook. He and his ex-wife, Sandy, were the driving force behind the creation of the company.

Cook was a total computer geek, in a way: but what I really remember, was his great sense of humor, respect  and support for the people who worked for his company. If you wanted to succeed, he was there to help you: so was his team of executives (for the most part).

It was a powerhouse five years.  Because of my experience at Blockbuster, I found myself smack dab in the middle of the film and video industry when I decided to leave (as Cook relinquished his involvement with the company). His belief in me, provided me with the confidence to pursue other avenues – and eventually gave me the courage to start my distribution company, which lasted for almost 20 years.  I even ended up producing a feature film (“The Seller“).

Last week, I drove by a Blockbuster in Lansing – with the “going out of business” banner;  but I had no idea  that it was curtains for the entire chain.  In existence for just shy of 30 years, the monster has now been slain by the technology that it helped to develop.

It’s sort of sad, as I really enjoyed what that company did for film overall.  Their determination (and success) at creating superstores with tens of thousands of titles that people just never had access to, is commendable. Most of the films that Blockbuster initially stocked were designed to overwhelm you when you walked in.  Some of us, though, would go home with 4, 5, 6 films a night…  films we had heard about, but never seen.

It was an exciting time of discovery for the world of film.  Stream all you want, but the personal nature of going into a store and speaking with people about what films to rent – and why – just will never be matched again. Therein lies the sadness.

RIP Blockbuster. You gave me one hell of a ride – taught me that a large corporation (at the beginning at least) was able to treat its employees with respect. So many good memories of friends, customers, filmmakers… hell, I even got to meet Debbie Reynolds, Jean-Claude VanDamme, as well as Anne Meara and Jerry Stiller (Ben Stiller’s parents, for those who don’t know).

And one last note:   to David and Sandy Cook – congratulations on sparking the fire that became the home video industry – as well as my sincerest thanks for providing me with professional guidance and advice that have stayed with me to this day.  One of my few regrets in life, is that I lost contact with the two you.  Perhaps this blog post might catch your eye.  I hope it does.

I would love to thank you in person.

Back to school

Well, it’s that time of year.

Back to school, with one major difference: all of my kids are now handling their own responsibilities. We’ve got one college senior and two college freshmen, along with the looming of the ’empty nest’ syndrome at my house (though my son is sticking around for a little while, as he gets his feet wet at a local college).

So I’ve decided to ramp up my involvement with some courses via in an attempt to absorb not only knowledge, but also the experience of being an online student.

I’ve just started an offering from UTAustinX:    UT.4.01x Take Your Medicine – The Impact of Drug Development which, so far, is well designed and fascinating. I felt that this might be the perfect introduction for me, as I provide administrative support to online MS students in Pharmacology & Toxicology programs at a major university. So far, so good – not dumbed-down, but accessible enough for a beginner to jump in and enjoy the learning experience. A new facet from Edx is the ability to earn a verified Certificate of Achievement that allows me to document the fact that I’ve participated in the course.

MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Courses) can sometimes be a bit overwhelming.  I experimented with a couple of offerings a few months ago (on a different site), whose structure may have been fine for some people, but I found so overpowering (from the sheer number of people participating, and the attempts at maintaining communication via a bulletin board), that I was forced to un-enroll.

This time around, it seems to be much more concise and efficient (though the massive bulletin board postings still exist). Safe bet for me, is just to skim the boards for anything that might be of interest – as attempting to read them would be akin to opening up ‘War and Peace’ and attempting to finish it within a few weeks.

This is cool, though.  Back to school in my mid-50’s.

I feel young again!  😉


Twinkies shelf life reached

Hostess files for liquidationIn case you haven’t heard, the iconic bakery Hostess (home of the famed “Twinkie”) appears to be headed out of business.

  • What does this mean?
  • Why did this happen?
  • Who’s responsible?
  • How can we survive in a world without Twinkies?

The most important question would be the first: it means that over 18,000 people will lose their jobs.

Right before the holidays, the venture capitalists (who control the company) filed for an expedited motion to shutter the company’s doors forever and liquidate all holdings; the courts will review this request on November 19.

This is the second time in recent years that the company has been in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. A company whose annual revenues exceed 2.5 billion (yes- BILLION) dollars.  Why is this happening?

Many of the mainstream media outlets are regurgitating news releases from the corporate offices of Hostess, which place the blame for this fiasco on the unions that have been on strike. What they fail to mention is that the officers of the corporation all received salary increases of to 80% before the bankruptcy filing (as the bankruptcy would have prevented the increases). Instead, these well-paid executives opted to ask for more wage concessions from hourly, middle-class workers, elimination of retiree health benefits (God forbid that those who supported the company for decades should rest easy during their retirement!), and cite un-funded pension obligations in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Probably the best  overview of exactly what happened to the company, and the reason it ended up in such a shamble is available at:

While the article points out that there is little that is black and white about this issue, one thing bothers me.  How does a company with revenues in the BILLIONS fall apart?  While the public battle appears as corporate vs. union – this is too simple.

I’m hoping (though I doubt it will happen) that the court’s will closely look at the reasons behind this financial debacle. How did the executives of this American legend allow it to flounder so badly? Two bankruptcies since 2004 and they’re unable to pull themselves up and re-design their business successfully?

In the meantime, we’ve got over 18,000 people looking at a very bleak holiday season.

Where have all the hippies gone?

Was talking to a friend the other night, after having read an article an article on a blog:  20 Things I Should Have Known at 20.  An excellent list that I wish I had thought up – please read it.

That evening, I was up late and scanning the options available via DirecTV and found the movie “Hair” playing on Ovation (one of my favorite channels) and I remembered:

9. You will become more conservative over time.

Suddenly the Tea Party movement began making more sense…

Hippies haven’t died out: they’ve simply cut their hair and began watching Fox News.

What a concept! The same determination for a cause, the media hype and attention; it’s all there!

Then, while bouncing around the internet a little while trying to locate the blog article mentioned above, I ran into another blog article:    Hippie, Conservative Republican! Oh My!

My observations / worst fears were confirmed…