Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Movie Review: The Blob (1958)

From WrongSideoftheHeart.com
I held out on watching The Blob for many years because of its cheesy, B-level reputation. However, after watching it for the first time this past weekend, I can honestly say that the film deserves way more credit than it has previously received, and I swear that has nothing to do with Steve McQueen in the lead role (although I will admit that he was my main motivation for viewing the film.) The Blob is everything a 1950s "horror" movie should be: fun, goofy and entertaining! No, you are not going to be so scared after watching it that you will lose sleep, but I actually found the concept and the build-up of suspense a little creepy. I also recognized some plot aspects that reminded me very much of Alien, and while I haven't researched this, it's plausible that the 1979 space horror classic was partially inspired by The Blob

This was not Steve McQueen's first movie, but it was his first leading role in a major motion picture. His name appears as Steven McQueen in the credits. Speaking of the opening credits, the movie had my attention from the get-go thanks to them. It's obvious that the filmmakers never intended for the movie to be taken too seriously, because the groovy, catchy theme song (Beware of the Blob) was co-composed by none other than Burt Bacharach. I also loved the use of mid-century modern graphics to represent the Blob getting bigger and bigger.

From mcqueenonline.com
When the movie opens, "teenager" Steve Andrews (Steve McQueen, who was 28 when the film was released) is making out in a convertible with his girlfriend Jane (lucky girl, as played by Aneta Corsaut) when they see a falling star land a few miles from where they're parked. Steve really wants to investigate it, so they take off to try to find it. Meanwhile, the meteor has landed in an old man's farm. 

The old man (Olin Howland, a veteran actor whose appearance in The Blob marks his last role) finds the meteor and naturally, instead of calling the cops he does the smart thing instead, which is to take a stick and begin poking at it. The meteor cracks open, and the material inside coats the stick and oozes onto his hand. Unable to get if off, he yowls in pain and goes running into the street, where he is rescued by Steve and Jane. 

The couple take him to the local doctor, who is just closing up in anticipation of traveling to a medical convention. He gives the old man anesthetic to knock him out and determines that he's dealing with some sort of parasite. He sends Steve and Jane to the old man's property to see if they can find any information that might enable the doctor to treat him. 

While phoning his nurse to return to the office to assist him, the Blob is spreading across the old man's body. I actually found this part to be the creepiest--while the doctor is on the phone, we witness its movement under the blanket. By the time the nurse has arrived, the old man is now gone, completely engulfed by the Blob, which resembles a giant pile of melted red gummy bears. Attempts by the nurse to stop the Blob by throwing acid on it do not work, and she becomes the space ameoba's next victim. When Steve and Jane return to the doctor's office (with the old man's dog in tow), Steve witnesses the doctor get eaten by the Blob through a window. 

At this point the police get called (finally!) to help, and they check out the inside of the doctor's house, which is in shambles. Unfortunately, the "monster" that Steve claims he witnessed is nowhere to be found, and the cops are convinced that he and his teenage buddies are pulling a prank. 

From Collider.com
The Blob has moved on, and its next victims include a car mechanic, bar goers, and a grocery store janitor. With each person it consumes it grows bigger. My favorite part of the movie is when the Blob makes it way to the local movie theater, where many of the teenagers are digging the "spook show." Ironic since they're about to get the spook of their lives! The shot of the giant Blob pouring out of the front doors of the movie theater is the classic scene often associated with this movie. And now, finally, the stupid cops realize that Steve isn't lying!

The movie's climax takes place within a diner, where Steve, Jane, Jane's little brother, and the diner's owners take refuge in the basement while the Blob completely engulfs the building. I won't spoil the ending for those who haven't seen it, but let's just say that there appeared to be a nod to global warming, even though folks in the 50s didn't know about it yet. There also was a hint revealed about how the Blob would eventually be stopped while Steve and Jane take refuge in the grocery store. 

Yes, there are some very laughable parts in this film, and the characters do some stupid things (I wanted to slap Jane when she dropped the deceased old man's dog when she encounters the Blob in the supermarket.) The Blob's movements are very herky jerky, but overall I thought the special effects were passable considering what was available in the movie industry in 1958. Also, I'd like to give thanks to the movie makers for choosing to make the film in color, so that I could gaze at Steve McQueen's baby blue eyes.

McQueen thought the movie would be a flop, so he opted for a lump sum salary of $3,000 instead of 10% of the profits; the movie ended up grossing $4 million, so you do the math. However, his film career would take off in a few years. 

I realize that this film got an 80s makeover and a sequel of sorts, but I have no interest in them compared to the nostalgia value of the 1958 original. All in all, I enjoyed The Blob...a fun horror-themed flick to watch on Halloween, or a hot summer night. 

Here's the opening credits featuring that groovy song:

Monday, May 28, 2012

Whatever Happened to Not Focusing on Fame?

The above infographic was published in yesterday's Boston Globe Magazine, accompanying an article about the current obsession among kids today with the quest for fame. It's sad--I grew up on Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, and Alf--and as the image notes, such sitcoms and countless others focused on "community feeling" and "self acceptance." Today, the TV schedule is infested with reality shows, many of which exist for the sole purpose of giving the average person a shot at celebrity status, whether it's American Idol, America's Got No Talent (I mean, America's Got Talent), The Voice, and that God-awful show Toddlers and Tiaras

You don't need a retro themed blog to tell you the kind of twisted message these shows send to our kids. It's baffling to me because I don't think there's been another time in history when the idea of celebrity is less appealing. Before the Internet and the proliferation of entertainment news shows, we didn't always find out about a movie star or singer's bad behavior, but the Internet has made exposing the downside of fame incredibly fast and widespread. When Lindsay Lohan is arrested for DUI, we know about it in a nanosecond, and it's immediately picked up by every major news outlet. I'm less than impressed by much of the behavior I've seen coming out of Hollywood in the past ten years; why the hell would any parent want their child to be exposed to it? 

Many of today's children also cannot seem to handle rejection well. The schools give out gold stars and awards to everyone with the convoluted thinking that it builds self esteem, when in fact it's just setting kids up for disaster when they encounter the real world. When Howard Stern refused to allow a young singer to go onto the next round on America's Got Talent a few weeks ago, it made the news because the boy broke down in tears on stage. Another girl who lost on the show could be seen crying, "You promised!" to her mother as she went to comfort her. WTF--the mother promised her daughter she would win the show? 

I've tried to figure out what is causing this unhealthy thirst for celebrity. I think a lot of it goes hand in hand with our obsession with acquiring material possessions and wealth. What faster way to put money in your bank and your child's bank account by making them a star? I also think there's a lot of parents with low self-esteem who are living vicariously through their children.

Getting back to the TV graphic--growing up, I only remember three talent shows on TV: Star Search, The Gong Show (which we so desperately need to bring back) and a local Boston weekend show called Community Auditions. With the exception of The Gong Show, I found these programs incredibly boring; Community Auditions always seemed to feature the same girl with the flat voice belting out "Tomorrow" from Annie week after week, without fail. I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that eventually, everyone will find out that they cannot all be famous, and we can call it a day on these talent shows and put some original programming back on the air.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Steve McQueen's Last Interview

Photo credit Richard Kraus via The First Steve McQueen Site
I recently tried to locate a 70s era TV interview with Steve McQueen--only to find out that he really didn't give interviews, particularly later in his career. There are no appearances of him during the 70s on The Tonight Show (he did appear on it twice in the 60s, in 1964 and again in 1966 to promote films) or with Dick Cavett, or Mike Douglas. That's when I discovered that remarkably, his very last interview wasn't given to a big-shot magazine reporter or television talk show host, but bestowed upon a high school student.

The student's name was Richard Kraus, and he approached McQueen on the set of his last film, The Hunter, to interview him for his high school's newspaper. What's amazing is that McQueen really took the time to give his full attention to Krauss, and even gave him some life advice out of earshot from the rest of the movie crew.

The interview got published in Kraus' high school newspaper, The Federalist, as well as in a McQueen biography called Portrait of an American Rebel. You can read it in its entirety here on The First Steve McQueen Site (the first known website ever to go live dedicated to the actor.) Here's what Richard Kraus remembers about the experience, as reprinted from the site:

"He made me his top priority at the moment. He showed me a lot of respect. I was only a high school student working on the school newspaper, jumping at the opportunity to interview a big star. I had a lot of nerve. I first approached his stuntman, Loren James, to ask if I could interview McQueen and take his picture. Loren said he never lets people take his picture, and he NEVER gives interviews.

I followed McQueen into the food truck (we were alone) and I asked him if I could interview him and take his picture. He said sure, and that I should come back that night when they were filming. Said I should come up with questions to ask him. I rushed home and sat with my family at the dinner table, writing down questions. Then went back to school.

I found him in the middle of shooting a scene. As soon as the scene ended he saw me in the crowd and told everyone he was taking a break from filming. We sat down by the stairs and I proceeded to ask him some questions. The wild part of this was, the crew formed a circle around us, watching the interview, because they knew he never gave interviews. It really did become a sort of historical "group interview."

When the interview was over and I was ready to leave, he asked if he could add more to it. I couldn't believe I was about to leave without asking him if he had anything more to say, and in every interview I've done since I've made sure to include that question at the end. He put his arm around me and walked me down the dark hallway, away from everyone else, and talked to me about the importance of living life and learning. It really was a very special moment I'll never forget. He could speak to any reporter in the world and get his word out to millions of people, but he chose to talk to a high school student."

Kraus got a photo of McQueen, pictured at the top of this post. He looks deceivingly healthy, considering he died later that year. But the fact that he gave a high school kid a break adds to his reputation as "The King of Cool."

Friday, May 18, 2012

Last Dance: RIP Donna Summer

Photo from Consequence of Sound
I was gutted to hear the news that Donna Summer had passed away from cancer at the age of 63. For a while, she'd been on my list of performers that I hoped I would still get to see in concert someday. That will never happen, but her music will live on as part of the soundtrack of my childhood. Whenever I need feel good music, Summer's is almost always the first I grab for. I also admired her for her ability to come across as down-to-earth in interviews; when Beyonce was in the news touting her pregnancy, I'd just shake my head and say, "Donna Summer would NEVER do that." For a huge star, Summer never seemed to exhibit diva-like behavior. As the disco queen herself told Rolling Stone magazine in 1976, "You can only be trapped by something that's stronger than yourself and I don't consider it to be stronger than myself. I don't intend to let an image make me."

And while we're probably never going to hear the end of Whitney Houston's troubles, I fear that the world will soon forget about Donna Summer's legacy. Well, I just cannot sit by and let that happen, even if what I'm about to offer is a VERY condensed biography.

I think one of the reasons I liked her so much is because she was, like me, a Boston girl. Raised as Ladonna Adrien Gaines in Dorchester, Massachusetts, she always loved to sing around the house, but her vocal talent emerged in church when she replaced a vocalist who never showed up. Everyone was surprised to hear a very grown-up voice coming from the ten year-old, and Summer herself was quoted later as saying, "I felt like God was saying to me, Donna, you're going to be very, very famous."

A rare photo of Donna Summer and her first husband, via Prince.org
But not right away. As a teenager, Summer auditioned for the Broadway musical Hair, but the part went to Melba Moore. She was offered the role in the Munich version of the show, and soon moved to Germany (and eventually Austria), learning the German language fluently and falling in love with an Austrian actor, Helmut Sommer, whom she married. Their daughter, Mimi, arrived soon after.(After the union ended in divorce, Summer kept her married last name, changing to "o" to a "u.")

Summer than began to record under the direction of Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte. The song that marked her breakthrough into disco was the controversial, hot and heavy hit "Love to Love You Baby." Moroder and Summer were inspired by the sexy Jane Birken/Serge Gainsbourg "Je T'Aime." Time magazine called the song "a marathon of 22 orgasms" and it was banned by the BBC. Summer herself admitted in a 1976 interview with Rolling Stone magazine that recording it was a little embarrassing. Only after the studio was cleared and the lights dimmed was Summer able to get into the mood.

And so her hits flooded the airwaves during the days of disco: "I Feel Love," "On the Radio," "Last Dance," "Bad Girls," "Hot Stuff," "She Works Hard for the Money," "Heaven Knows," and "Dim All the Lights." One of the songs that Summer was supposed to record but never did was Bruce Springsteen's "Cover Me." The record company preferred his rock arrangement, although I can easily envision Summer singing the song. Instead she was given another Springsteen composition, "Protection." A duet of the two megastars performing the song together was never released, but I found the following mash-up that a fan put together, and it sounds absolutely magical:

In the 80s, Summer wanted to distance herself from disco. One of her post-dicso hits was "This Time I Know It's For Real," a favorite of mine from the decade.

At the time of her death, Summer had been married to Bruce Sudano, whom she met in 1978. They had two daughters, Brooklyn and Amanda.

I was originally going to make this one of my Two Forgotten Friday Favorite posts, but I could not choose only two Donna Summer hits. RIP, Donna Summer--you will be missed.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Bad Cover Art of the Day

I never get tired of viewing bad cover art. Horrible album covers are like potato chips: I just can't stop at one. I found all of the covers in this post on Flickr, courtesy of the user named letslookupandsmile who kindly allows downloading of his/her images. So kudos to them, and now let's have some fun! 

Too many adjectives here. I think I would have just gone with Forgotten Feelings for the title of this album; what do you think? I mean the fellow on the cover doesn't exactly look like he's laughing. Or maybe a better title would have been My Fireplace Needs An Exorcism

I have a confession to make: I love Scottish guys--especially strapping ones with a full head of dark hair (think Craig Ferguson...yum-eee!) However, I have to draw the line somewhere, and clearly that line's name is Colin Stuart. Colin not only loves purple, but he's into sex with minors--no way is the girl behind the counter old enough to be a bartender! 

Noch Mehr Stimmung clearly translates to "We be stripping tonight."


The hills are alive with the sound of...guitars. And more guitars. Actually, if I were that girl, I'd watch my back, because clearly these guitars are jealous and are out for revenge. They're surrounding them!

Mirror mirror on the wall, whose record company has the cheapest art department of all?

I don't think that Dave is the ugly one here--more like it's the sound of hundreds of drunk audience members attempting to sing 28 songs that you love to sing. Or, that you loved to sing.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man Lives

Image courtesy of ThinkGeek.com
When I first saw Ghostbusters back in 1984, I thought that the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man was an actual mascot--considering that not all food brands are sold or marketed in all parts of the country. Turns out that Dan Aykroyd dreamed up the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man for the movie, so actual Stay Puft marshmallows had to remain, for my teenagehood, just a puft dream.

Until now, that is. Today, I'm happy to report that you can now buy Stay Puft marshmallows featuring that Michelin Man-like creation of corn syrup and gelatin that terrorized the ghostbuster guys, the Marshmallow Man himself. Each box features the jolly side of the Marshmallow Man's personality as well as the agitated one that wanted to stomp on New York City.

ThinkGeek.com is selling the marshmallows as an official Ghostbusters collectible, but who in their right mind could actually resist eating them?  At $7.99 per box they're a little pricey for junk food, but seem like they'd make a great novelty gift for fans of the movie.

Here's a great retro inspired advertisement that was created for the product, courtesy of the Stay Puft Facebook fan page:

Monday, May 14, 2012

Saturday Night Live Characters That I Miss

As much as I've tried to give the current cast of Saturday Night Live (SNL) a chance, I just don't find them as funny as the ensembles I grew up with in the 80s and 90s. One thing I've noticed in particular that seems sorely lacking lately with the show is the presence of recurring original characters that make me laugh. When's the last time a character on SNL became so ingrained with the general public that their lines were routinely repeated, or a movie was made around them? I'm not saying that every movie starring a SNL character was always a good idea (one exception was Wayne's World) but it does seem to say something about the creativity of the writers and actors. I never got the "Gilly" character created by Kristen Wiig, for example--and I'm guessing others didn't, either, since Wiig retired the character last year.

For me, nothing beats the casts of SNL past...and here's some of their characters that I would gladly stay up late for:

Friday, May 11, 2012

Tighty Whitey Tight Pants

This is quite possibly one of the more awesome comedy sketches with a retro theme that I've seen in recent years. Will Ferrell and Jimmy Fallon, looking like leftover male dancers from a 60s variety show, battle it out in their groovy tight pants. The turtlenecks and moptop wigs are a nice touch. From last night's Late Night with Jimmy Fallon:

Thursday, May 03, 2012

The Verbal Smackdowns of Fred Sanford

Photo from sitcomsonline.com
I'm working on a new blog post--I swear--but in the meantime I thought I would provide some chuckles by posting some of the best lines ever uttered by Fred Sanford on the sitcom Sanford and Son. When he wasn't calling his son Lamont a "big dummy", most of his venomous zingers were aimed at his sister-in-law Esther's looks, and downright funny. There are 50 ways to call someone ugly, and Fred Sanford knew every one of them!

Fred Sanford: I brought you somethin' too, Esther.
Aunt Esther: Why, that's nothing but a clear piece of plastic.
Fred Sanford: No, it ain't. Put it up to your face. That's your Hallowe'en mask.

Aunt Esther: Fred Sanford why is it every time I come over to your house you call me ugly?
Fred Sanford: Because I'm not the type to lie.

Aunt Esther: Woodrow and I are going to have a baby.
Fred Sanford: Well somebody better call the zoo.

Aunt Esther: I cant believe it, you with a mop in your hand? Its about time you faced up to this mess.
Fred Sanford: Speaking of facing up to this mess, who messed up this face?

Fred Sanford: Who is it?
Aunt Esther: It's Esther!
Fred Sanford: Esther who?
Aunt Esther: You know Esther who! Open this door fool!
Fred Sanford: I can't open the door!
Aunt Esther: Why not?
Fred Sanford: You too ugly! 

From mythirdparent.tumblr
Fred Sanford: Polly-Esther - that's you. Half woman, half parrot!

Fred Sanford: Goodbye, dear
Aunt Esther: Oh, you called me dear.
Fred Sanford: Why shouldn't I call you DEER? You look like Bambi's father!

Fred Sanford: Listen, Esther. In the first place, you can't enter that contest because you're not eligible. See one of the things you have to be is a part of a certain race.
Woody Anderson: What race?
Fred Sanford: Human!

Aunt Esther: Who you calling ugly, sucker?
Fred Sanford: I'm calling you ugly, I could push your face in some dough and make gorilla cookies.

Aunt Esther: Fred Sanford, you just a messy fool.
Fred Sanford: And you just a sessy pool.

Aunt Esther: Today is my lucky day.
Fred Sanford: Why? Did you look at yourself in the mirror and it didn't break?

Fred Sanford: [to Aunt Esther] I warn you, woman, vengeance is among me! And ugly is among you.

Aunt Esther: My body was blessed by Mother Nature, honey.
Fred Sanford: And as you got older, it was cursed by Father Time.

Fred Sanford: Ester what are you doing here?
Aunt Esther: What do you mean what am I doing here?
Fred Sanford: Well Wolfwoman don't come out till there's a full moon.

Aunt Esther: "ohhh glory!"
Fred Sanford: "ohhh ugly!"

Fred Sanford: All you got to do is enlist Esther in the Navy. And that way, you can have her face buried at sea!

Lamont Sanford: She's (Aunt Esther's) gonna be competing with her own peers.
Fred Sanford: Her Peers?
Lamont Sanford: Yes.
Fred Sanford: You mean Godzilla is in the contest?

Fred Sanford (to Esther): If you have to take your clothes off, that's criminal.

Fred Sanford (to Esther when she's about to adopt a child): He will like you, Esther. All children love animals.

Here's the classic gorilla cookie quote:

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