It’s tougher, it’s darker — of course, it’s better!

Once upon a time, the movies used to take properties from other fields, plays and novels mainly, and clean them for the nation’s theaters, removing excess sexuality and violence until, sometimes, what was left made almost no sense at all. Couples who lived “in sin” found themselves with marriage licenses or merely dating, soldiers and prison inmates never cursed but were occasionally permitted to use poor grammar, gay characters went straight — and, in the case of the great noir thriller, “Crossfire,” became Jewish into the bargain — and so it went.

More recently, the trend has been to either completely send something up or to darken it and make it more “real,” as if darkness and reality were identical. (Closer, maybe, but not identical.) Still, we can rest assured that, like “The A-Team,” the proposed movie version of “The Equalizer” with Russell Crowe will be a gazillion times more violent than the television series it was based on — and I’m just talking about the moment when Crowe finds craft services forgot to provide that brand of organic ketchup he really likes. Heck, even the 100% inevitable sequel to “The Karate Kid” will surely be darker than the first because, you know, this time, he’s pubescent!

Still, as the studios grow so desperate for a hit that some, perhaps, might be willing to consider making something not fully recycled, there’s always someone willing to take a property in the darker direction it really needs to go. Who cares if the core audience is under five? Someone’s got to show those goldbricking preschoolers the way the world really is. Are you with me? Well, Rob Bricken (who gets the h/t) and the creative semi-geniuses of It’s Not a Book get it. See the future of cinema, below.

  

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RIP Edward Woodward

Edward WoodwardI was very sorry to hear earlier this morning of the death at age 79 of a personal favorite of mine, Edward Woodward.  Although he may still be best known for his roles in the acclaimed fact-based war drama, “Breaker Morant,” the espionage/crime-vigilante TV series, “The Equalizer,” and by our friends in England as the cynical, super-tough spy “Callan,” his role in what was once a fairly obscure cult film all but buried by its studio, the 1973 “The Wicker Man,” is getting the lion’s share of attention in most of his  press obituaries, that’s including the very touching one issued by the BBC this morning.

“The Wicker Man” has been one of my favorite movies since I was teenager and remains so now — not even the worst imaginable remake can touch that film, and that proposition has now been tested.  Still, my admiration of the actor Woodward goes well beyond one single role. He was the kind of performer you could rely on to be great in anything and so he was on countless television programs.  A master of understatement who knew when and how to go big (the oft-spoiled ending of “The Wicker Man” being a case in point), he was a real virtuoso whose un-showy approach probably doomed him to being underrated to a certain degree. Still, he didn’t seem to mind and judging from the press accounts I’ve been reading, he was a real gentleman and as fun to be around as his best known characters were definitely not. He was also, by the way, an accomplished Shakespearian stage actor and a fair-to-middling pop singer. It’s a shame he rarely got to do either on screen, though his voice can be heard to powerful effect during the final scene of “Breaker Morant.” (If you don’t mind learning the fate of his title character, or already know it from history, you can see the conclusion here.)

Two of his more devoted fans appear to have been Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, who were smart enough to cast Woodward in “Hot Fuzz,” and you can read their thoughts at Wright’s blog and via a message board post by Pegg. (Big h/t to Beaks.) Wright’s piece is really lovely and I strongly recommend you read all of if . However, here’s one line that tickled me, in the spirit of “it’s funny because it’s true.”

I also remember telling him that Quentin [Tarantino] was a huge fan of his film ‘Sitting Target’ (another great soundtrack – btw) and he looked shocked. I’m not sure anyone had ever complimented him on it. He replied “Well, you must tell your friend he is very strange indeed”.

And so it goes, another great lost. I do want to echo Edgar Wright’s entreaty that, especially you’ve never seen it, you watch the 1973 “The Wicker Man” as fast as possible and avoid any place where spoilers about the ending might be found, which seems to be about 99% of what’s been posted about it recently. (I tried to avoid giving too much away in my 2000 review linked to above.)  Woodward’s portrayal of a repressed, bitter, humorless, but also decent, principled, and compassionate man is, to me, very much what acting is all about.  So, why are we surprised to hear about what a funny and regular guy he was in real life? He was acting — extraordinarily well.

Greg of Cinema Styles has more. Highly recommended.

  

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An A to Z of Last-Minute Gifts for the TV Geek in Your Life

Got a TV geek on your Christmas list but don’t know what to get them because you’re petrified that they might already have all the obvious picks? As someone who falls into that demographic (and therefore has to make a very explicit list for my family every year), I understand where you’re coming from, so please allow me to do my part to help but you and the poor bastard you’re waiting ’til the last second to shop for. Sure, the list is a little all-over-the-place, but all of these items have landed in stores since last Christmas, and…hey, at least it’s in alphabetical order!

1. Adam 12: Season Two – Rescued from Universal’s indifference by the good folks at Shout! Factory, it holds up about as well as any show produced by Jack Webb (which is to say that the acting is more than a little stilted), but it’s been tricked out with commentaries from actual Los Angeles police officers, which make for entertaining and interesting listening.

2. Beauty and the Beast: The Complete Series – Ron Perlman may be best known these days for his work in FX’s “Sons of Anarchy” and the “Hellboy” franchise, just as Linda Hamilton is probably destined to be remembered as the definitive Sarah Connor, but once upon a time, they were the stars of a rather unlikely romance on CBS. This complete-series set offers little new for those who’ve already purchased the individual season sets except an interactive trivia game, some “newly reconstructed love letters” from Vincent which don’t sound like they’re being read by Perlman, and a nice looking box, but it’s a strange, fanciful, and romantic show that your mom, wife, sister, or…oh, hell, even you might like it.

3. Comedy Central’s TV Funhouse – Given that it takes the style of a kids show from the early ’70s and blends it with dark, surreal, and sometimes downright filthy humor, it’s only halfway surprising that this series didn’t find a following, but it will undoubtedly come to be remembered as one of the great lost comedy classics of the decade. Robert Smigel obsessives will notice that a few things are missing from the show’s original airing, but there’s still plenty here to make you laugh and groan for hours.

4. Drak Pak: The Complete Series – Sometimes, you include an item for personal reasons, but the idea of the kids of Dracula, the Wolfman, and Frankenstein’s Monster teaming up to form a crime-fighting team that battles against a guy who looks suspiciously like Vincent Price is one that had me watching every Saturday morning. Sadly, it only lasted a single season, and watching it now, I can kind of see why, but it’s still a fun flashback for those who remember the show from its original run.

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