Jan 21, 2011

January updates & news

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Hey everyone, Hunter here.

First things first, it's been a bit since we dropped a show, mainly because our next couple of shows require a good level of prep, including our obligatory "Best & Worst of 2010" show, which we're giving ourselves some time to catch up on movies we missed, as well as maintain a healthy distance from the end of the year.  We don't have an estimation as to when they'll drop, but we'll give updates on that via Facebook and Twitter.  In the meantime, I recently did an article over at film critic Christian Toto's blog WhatWouldTotoWatch.com regarding the recent news for Christopher Nolan's upcoming The Dark Knight Rises.  Toto writes for papers like The Denver Post and The Washington Times and is a regular contributor to the Dennis Miller Show, so head over his site and check it out, and be sure to give my article a read!

We'll see you folks soon with our next show!

Jan 13, 2011

Tilting at Death Stars - Observations from our special guest JediCole

Tilting at Death Stars

By Cole “JediCole” Houston

Like those kids in Pulp Fiction, we got into this with the best intentions. Unlike them, we survived. When I was first approached by Stu to be a guest on the Midnight Movie Cowboys’ Star Wars episode his primary concern was that, online, in-depth explorations of each film of the Saga had been done to death. In our discussions the concept began to emerge that we tackle Star Wars not as a series of films but as the global phenomenon that it would become. A phenomenon that transcends its cinematic origins and transforms it into a part of contemporary culture. The modern mythology as it has often been called. Yet in the end we discovered that three people who are passionate about Star Wars and the impact it has had on them personally cannot help but explore the films themselves.

Our express purpose, however, was to explore all things Star Wars outside of the films themselves, time permitting. In preparation for this I had compiled what turned out to be six pages of notes that covered a variety of topics and concepts that were not film-specific. In the end we scarcely touched upon even ten percent of that list. Needless to say, when you are covering Star Wars there is a lot of ground to cover. At first there was some concern that we had strayed from out intended path, that we had done exactly what we were seeking to avoid. Like George Lucas who despised the corporate world of filmmaking and created Star Wars as much as possible outside of that system only to have its success compel LucasFilm to become exactly the corporate machine he once rejected, we found ourselves immersed in a fairly deep discussion of each individual film. Some things are just inevitable.

But in so doing we only failed to adhere to a projected structure while still delivering a compelling show. As I write this the finished edit is in the can and is quite a good episode in its own right. I look forward to hearing it myself as I am sure are those who are reading these words (if you have not already given it a listen). So the purpose of this article is not to bemoan the departure from the path we set before us but rather to share a few of the points that were not covered that might be of interest to you, the listener. A kind of written supplement to the show itself. And a glimpse into the insights of someone who has been an avid fan of the Star Wars saga since the age of 11 and that fateful summer of 1977.

All of that said I would like to take a moment to touch upon a few aspects of the Star Wars saga that touch upon its impact both personally and socially. Stu, Hunter, and I had spent some considerable time weeks in advance of recording the episode discussing all things Star Wars. Much of that discussion certainly directed the final show and was replete with personal experiences. Being to oldest of the three of us and subsequently the one most versed in the history of Star Wars I was a wellspring of memories. From newspaper ads for department store appearances of Darth Vader and Boba Fett (which sadly I was not able to attend) to the Star Wars daily comic strips that ran in one of the two Dallas newspapers of the day. The newspaper my parents did not take but my grandmother did, which had her dutifully clipping those strips out of her paper every single day for years! I can certainly say I have lived Star Wars for the greater part of my life.

On the Personal Front

When I saw Star Wars the first time I was enthralled. How enthralled I would only realize in retrospect. Nothing in my experience had ever come close to speaking to me in the way this movie did. And while there was precious little early on by way of physical souvenirs, in time those would come and be a huge part of my life to this day. In the mean time there was always the second and third and fourth screening of this incredible film. I recall my mom reading an article in the paper about people seeing Star Wars 50 to 100 times. This was unheard of! I considered my tenth viewing to be something of an accomplishment, but then I was far too young to see it at will. And though in those days it was not uncommon to buy a ticket and sit through a second screening without ever being asked to leave, I never got close to those lofty numbers myself. At least before the arrival of home video.

Then there was a kind of virtual collecting that went on for me. From amassing every newspaper clipping and advertisement for all things Star Wars to mentally cataloging everything aired on television that was remotely related. The infamous Star Wars Holiday Special is certainly the best known incursion of that galaxy far, far away to the small screen, but it was not the only one. An episode of The Donny and Marie Show featured a song and dance number famous to this day for its dancing Stormtroopers and Paul Lynd in the garb of an Imperial Officer. There was an obscure Richard Pryor special that included a sketch juxtaposing an inner city dive bar with Mos Eisely Cantina (complete with all of the creatures from that scene).

And of course there was the first appearance of Carrie Fischer in a sexy two-piece bikini number on Saturday Night Live (years before Return of the Jedi). As that week’s guest host a Star Wars themed sketch was inevitable. The approach chosen was to drop Princess Leia in the middle of a 50’s Frankie Avalon and Annette Funichello beach picture – Beach Blanket Bimbo from Outer Space! As a young fan of Star Wars and the lovely Princess the sight of Carrie Fischer doffing her white robes for a gold lame bikini was a delightful sight. It certainly made her singing of “Teenager from Outer Space”, a performance on a par with that of the Life Day song, more than forgivable. Who could help but overlook her less-than-ideal song stylings when under the influence of the sight of the actress in her prime wearing almost nothing?

The original Battlestar Galactica promised to provide the flavor of Star Wars on our television screens every week. Certainly much of the production had a very Star Wars feel. From the Colonial Vipers that invoked X-Wing Fighters to the Cylon Base Star which was much akin to the Death Star, but lacked the overall destructive power. My personal level of excitement the night of the premiere of the series was off the charts. And when a Presidential Address preempted the show in the middle I could not have been more angry. How could the President of the United States be so thoughtless as to interrupt Battlestar Galactica?! Could any matter of national import really trump something like this? As the series wore on, however, the influence of Star Wars became less and less prevalent as it found its own identity and distinguished itself in the annals of science fiction television.

Like many actual, and in my case budding, writers and filmmakers, Star Wars was my earliest and greatest influence. As early as 1977 I was determined to be a filmmaker and set about to create movie magic with an 8mm silent film camera and a handful of friends. By high school I was saving up for a Super 8 sound camera and still working on the never-ending screenplay to my intergalactic epic Star Worlds! This highly derivative work had more nods to Star Wars than original concepts. The lead characters of Han Novatec and his alien co-pilot Naphet Yen (a bat-eared animal man) not only invoked their LucasFilm counterparts, they down right ripped them off! To be sure to give due honor to one of my favorite scenes, there was also a Cantina scene in every iteration of the script.

Then there were the Kenner Star Wars toys. As a collector from the Early Bird Set straight through to the very last Power of the Force toys I had a keen interest in the line. At one point when looking at one of the vehicles in the line I noticed the address for Kenner Products emblazoned on the surface of the toy. An actual mailing address for the manufacturer or the greatest toy line in history, could this be possible? And in fact it was. I wrote my first letter to Kenner soon after my discovery, though it would not be the last. Over the course of six to seven years I wrote incessantly to Kenner. Much to my surprise each reply letter I received was signed by the same people (over that time only two people ever had the task of replying to consumers it seems). And in time the replies became more and more personalized.

I not only wrote to espouse my particular love of the series, but also to suggest which characters might best suit the line. I campaigned, unsuccessfully, for a bantha, though my design for a Bespin Carbon Freeze Chamber mechanism to go from a Han figure to a Carbonite encased Han was more or less utilized in the Micro Series.

Into a Larger World

Who could have predicted the lasting influence of Star Wars on cinema and on world culture? Certainly not George Lucas himself. There is a well-known story from 1977 of the Saga’s creator being taken aback when he realized that the long lines outside of the Chinese Theatre consisted of moviegoers seeking to see Star Wars! Certainly not the kind of reception he expected for his spacefaring adventure. How strange indeed it must seem to reflect on a world where the Star Wars name would be adopted for the United States’ orbital missile defense systems and Jedi would become the “official” religion of thousands of Australians in the country’s 2001 Census!

Perhaps the greatest influence of Star Wars was to make the genre of science fiction a viable one for American cinema. On the strength of the success of this film, productions of every caliber began to emerge. Every studio wanted to cash in on the success of Star Wars and dozens of films would hit the screens in the ensuing years. And none could even come close to touching the phenomenal success of the fledgling Saga. The promise of more films to follow certainly helped fuel that fire. But it was also the unique aspects of the film, from production values that were beyond its budget to themes that were never successfully mimicked helped set Star Wars apart from the field of “me too” movies that tried to ride its coat tails.

When I was growing up Star Trek was the bastion of science fiction-based costuming. In the years since its release it seems that Star Wars has long since taken over that role. Personally I have seen Star Wars costuming evolve from something you saw only once in a while to an ubiquitous entity of fandom. The international Imperial costuming group, the 501st Legion has the distinction of actually being officially licensed by LucasFilm. That certainly makes this organization the most unique license holders in the mix. From organized costumers to lone hobbyists to kids in store-bought costumes you can always find plenty of folks donning the garb of their favorite characters. Once rare and prohibitively expensive, the armor of the Stormtrooper has become almost commonplace at conventions. Fan favorites like Boba Fett, Darth Maul, and the inevitable Jedi Knights are also ever-present. It is rare indeed to fail to see a Star Wars character costume being worn at any kind of convention.

Jan 6, 2011

Hunter on Valhalla Rising

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I'm a firm believer that the Viking movie is a sleeping giant of a sub-genre, but for now we get precious few of them. That said, if Nicolas Winding Refn's Valhalla Rising was the last Viking film we ever got, I would be perfectly satisfied. Valhalla Rising is a slow-burning tale of One-Eye (Mads Mikkelsen), a mute embodiment of violence and brutality whose only purpose is to fight prisoners to the death for his pagan masters. Plagued with apocalyptic visions of the future, One-Eye escapes his captors and comes across Christian Vikings on a crusade to the Holy Land. He joins them, but their ship, enshrouded by a thick fog, lands somewhere else, somewhere Hellish and alien.  Valhalla Rising isn't a movie about Vikings, so much as it is a poem about Hell, which is where the movie descends a la Apocalypse Now.  Hell isn't a pit of fire and brimstone where Satan roasts on a spit you over and over again for dinner, so much as it is a place completely alienated from God, which is where this movie takes place, a Godless void.   The Vikings One-Eye encounters claim to be Christians, but they are consumed by greed and hubris, God and Jesus coming second to their quest for riches.  One of them talks of building the New Jerusalem, filled with gold, it's not unlike the building of the Tower of Babel.  Their conquest can do nothing but anger the God they supposedly glorify.

What I value most in certain types of film is atmosphere, a thick sense of place, and Valhalla Rising is easily the most atmospheric film of 2010, thanks in no small part to the moody soundtrack by Peter Kyed and (no joke) Peter Peter, the best marriage of audio and video all year, even trumping Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' score for The Social Network. The sloping hills, foreboding clouds, and One-Eye's violent gaze do the rest. The result is a feeling of dread so heavy you can cut it.   And there's plenty of time to feel it, while it's running time is just over ninety minutes, VALHALLA RISING is a slow burn that takes its time and breathes, letting you soak in the vibe, the pace gives it the feeling that the movie is far longer than it actually is, but in this case that's a good thing.

This film has drawn comparisons to the work of Werner Herzog and Terence Malick, and while the descent into madness and the way the movie dwells in nature indeed recall their films, Refn's film works on its own demonic level.  While poetic, it's not kind in spirit like Malick's work, nor is it chaotic like Herzog. The film has more in common with Andrei Tarkovsky's work, as the film's slow descent recalls films like Stalker, indeed Refn's approach here "sculpts in time" the way Tarkovsky did.  But Refn isn't tipping the hat or paying homage to any of these artists, Valhalla Rising makes no effort to be like anything that has come before. It is an original creation, and one of the best films of 2010.

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Jan 6, 2011

Episode 5 - The Intergalactic Laxative

The Force is strong with this one.

Well, here we have our Star Wars episode entitled 'The Intergalactic Laxative' (or: All the s**t you didn't know about Star Wars). Hunter and Stu are joined by their friend, and tireless Star Wars fanatic / guru Mr. Cole 'JediCole' Houston of 'The United Staes of Geekdom' podcast.

We discuss all things Star Wars, not just the movies. Listen as we discuss initial Star Wars origins, action figures, comics, our personal recollections of Star Wars, our re-imagining of Star Wars... oh and, well we do discuss the films a little bit also.

come visit us at www.midnightmoviecowboys.com email us at midnightmoviecowboys@gmail.com find us on twitter at MMCowboys give our facebook page a visit and hit the like button if you haven't done so, just look up Midnight Movie Cowboys

also you can listen to Cole over at the podcast he co-hosts 'United States of Geekdom' www.unitedstatesofgeekdom.com

or visit his personal website www.jedicole.com

thanks for listening everybody.

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