Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Taking of Deborah Logan: A Paranormal Murder Mystery

The Taking of Deborah Logan: Poster | A Constantly Racing Mind I don't usually care much for found footage films, but there are exceptions. "The Taking of Deborah Logan" is one of them. With a strong cast, excellent direction and a unique look at the paranormal horror genre, director and co-writer Adam Robitel brings a different perspective to the genre. A documentary crew intent on following a woman diagnosed with the Alzheimer's. As the film crew gets deeper into the ravages of the disease, it becomes apparent that there is more going on than what we believe. In my book, a horror film isn't worth its salt if it isn't rated R and this one is. Produced by Bryan Singer's "Bad Hat Harry Productions," this film went directly to Netflix and so far, is getting above average user reviews and here’s why.

Similar in tone of "The Blair Witch Project," Mia (Michelle Ang), the female leader of the documentary crew is working on this project for her medical PhD thesis and focusing specifically on the effects on the caregivers of Alzheimer's patients. She brings along Gavin (Brett Gentile) as editor, and Luis (Jeremy DeCarlos),as the rarely seen but essential cameraman. We meet the crew as they drive up to the Logan's property just outside of the town of Exuma. Set in the historic woods of Virginia, steeped in old legend of the Indians that lived there before the white man's arrival. The Logan's property is out in the woods and secluded. We are greeted jubilantly by Sarah Logan played by Anne Ramsay ("Dexter"), her mother Deborah (Jill Larson) is in the initial stages of Alzheimer’s and due to financial reasons, Deborah is seeking a portion of the film crew's grant money in exchange for the interview and allowing them to document her mother's disease, for science. Deborah, who lives in Richmond with her female life partner, has come home to help with her mother. 

The Taking of Deborah Logan:  Jill Larson and Anne Ramsay| A Constantly Racing MindAs Sarah brings the group around back to meet her mother, she tells the crew that, her mom is so excited and that she has been cleaning and dusting the house as if "the president" was coming. Sarah also says that her mom comes off as, "a little salty, but it's just an act." She also tells the crew to say, "Please and thank you; kiss her ass." We find Deborah out in the back woody area with Harris (Ryan Cutrona), an old friend of the family. Almost immediately, as Deborah and Mia meet, Deborah's attitude changes and she decides she doesn't want to do the interview after all. The crew continues to film as Sarah and Deborah argue from inside the house. It is needless to say that the persistent group gets their way and a week later Deborah is welcoming and the weirdness begins. What helps in making this film believable is the interaction between Deborah and Sarah. As Deborah's mental condition gets worse, Sarah's concern and helplessness grows. Although the viewer knows that this is a film about demonic possession, you can't help but feel empathy for Sarah and the toll her mom is taking on her.

Co-writers Adam Robitel and Gavin Heffernan play off some of the conventional paranormal horror tropes. Which include American - Indian folklore ("The Amityville Horror," "Poltergeist"), the use of planted cameras ("Paranormal Activity"), security camera footage ("The Bay"), the disbelief in the paranormal ("The Last Exorcism"), creepy drawings that children usually draw of the ghosts or demons that they see ("Sinister," "Mama"), and the creepy shot with a character's back to the camera from the ending of "The Blair Witch Project." Also included is a dark secret that was once buried returns to life to haunt the living like in “Nightmare on Elm Street.” However, as a director, Robitel changes up some of these tropes and creates a new archetype utilizing instead, an older woman who has a mental illness. In Shamanistic societies, the mentally ill were regarded as sacred and speak words that come from the spirit realm. Heffernan and Robitel work into their story Monacan religion, a serial killer from the 1970's and a blood oath made by conspirators. Add to that the strong acting by both Larson and Ramsay, we watch as the scenes turn wi as each moment goes by. The film is intercut with Mia's medical school animations showing an Alzheimer's patient's brain, and interviews with Dir. Nazir (Anne Bedian) at the hospital up the level of realism a degree or two. 

The Taking of Deborah Logan: Brett Gentile and Jill Larson | A Constantly Racing Mind As the film progresses,  Ang's character Mia, becomes more determined to get to the bottom of the strange events than actually completing her thesis. Brett Gentile as Gavin does an excellent job of developing the sense of the paranormal as he brings out EVP voices interspersed in Deborah's demonic voices. Usually in films like this, the cameraman, gets the short end of the deal but not in this case. My other issue with found footage films is that the ending is abrupt and doesn't bring the viewer to a conclusion or some sort of catharsis. For example, "The Devil Inside," clocking in at around only 83 minutes leaves the audience unfulfilled and feeling that they paid for more than what they got. However, Robitel does a fine job of wrapping this one up.

In spite of the usual bad photography and shaky-cam in places where the characters are running around, the characters, strong acting, and the a different kind of story transcend the level of mediocrity that most horror films of this type fall into. For Halloween this year, or any year, I would heartily recommend “The Taking of Deborah Logan” for your paranormal thrill fix available now on Netflix.

Movie Data

Genre: Horror, Thriller
Year:  2014
Staring: Jill Larson, Anne Ramsay, Michelle Ang, Brett Gentile, Jeremy DeCarlos, Ryan Cutrona, Anne Bedian 
Director: Adam Robitel
Producer(s): Jeff Rice, Bryan Singer
Writer: Adam Robitel, Gavin Heffernan 
Rating: R
Running Time: 89 minutes
Release Date: 10/21/2014

Monday, October 27, 2014

Ouija: A Fatal Fable of Foolish Friends

Ouija: Banner | A Constantly Racing Mind

As a kid, my parents told me never to play with an Ouija board. You can buy one down at a toy store or on line at Amazon for about $20. Hasbro makes and sells this "game" for ages 8 to adult. Now Michael Bay, Jason Blum and Hasbro have teamed up once again to give audiences a cheap thrill by promoting a favorite child's toy as a film as they did with "Battleship." Olivia Cooke ("The Signal," "The Quiet Ones," "Bates Motel") stars as the best friend of an apparent suicide victim who just can't leave well enough alone. Director and co-writer Stiles White whose horror credits include writing, along with his wife Juliet Snowden, “The Boogie man," "Knowing," and "The Possession," work to tell a PG-13 story that appeal to the teen - aged moviegoer. The film starts out with two young girls of about seven or eight, in their pajamas playing with a cheap Ouija board and a plastic planchette. But first, the young blonde girl (Claire Beale) must tell the brunette girl the "rules" of the game. The first rule is, "never play alone," "never play in a graveyard," and finally, "always say goodbye." 

About ten years later, the two girls are seniors in high - school looking forward to college. Debbie, the blonde, now played by Shelly Henning ("The Secret Circle," "Teen Wolf") is alone in the typical old creepy multi - storied house -- with a past. The now grown brunette, Laine (Cooke), comes by to invite her recently and strangely reclusive best friend to go to a school game with her. The melancholy Debbie says she's not in the mood, but will see Laine tomorrow. After a few jump scares, the familiar low rumble of impending doom, Debbie inexplicably hangs herself off the second story balcony. With a dead friend now as a motivation, Laine gathers her boyfriend, Trevor (Darren Kagasoff), Debbie's boyfriend Pete (Douglas Smith), and Isabel (Blanca A. Santos), to hold a séance in the old house. In the hopes fo finding answers to Debbie's sudden and unforeseen suicide. Conveniently, because of the trauma of their daughter’s death, Debbie’s parents leave town to mourn. Laine's father, coincidentally, also leaves town for business putting Laine in charge of her younger but wild sister Sara (Ana Coto) who she brings along to the séance.

Ouija: Seance| A Constantly Racing Mind

Stiles and Snowden walk the audience through every paranormal horror trope in the book: a house with a past, found footage, jump scares, and stupid kids summoning up the dead to a less than satisfying end. The best part of "Ouija" is Lin Shaye from "Insidious," "Insidious: Chapter 2," and more recently the indie Sci-Fi flick "The Signal" which also starred Olivia Cooke as well, as an insane survivor of a cruel spiritualist. The first problem I have with "Ouija" is the PG-13 rating. I don't think that a decent horror film should ever tone down the blood, gore, or tension, to keep from getting the audience limiting R rating. Secondly, White fails in trying to build character, primal fear, or hair raising tension, that develop a story and reworks the typical and tired horror tropes than just replay them. Finally, I am still having a problem getting used older actors playing much younger roles. Olivia Cooke is 20 years old (which I'm cool with) while the other members of the cast range from 24 (Isabella), to 27 (Trevor) and 29 (Pete). Other than Olivia, I had a hard time buying into these kids are in high - school. 

The idea that the living can contact and speak to the dead has been around since civilization started burying their dead. The emotional toll the loss of a loved one takes on the human psyche is beyond stating. Since ancient China, the use of a planchette as a way divining what the dead have to say. These planchettes were more of a way of holding a writing instrument that would aid the living write out the dead’s words. In the early 19th century, spiritualism was in vogue and séances featuring automatic writing with the use of a planchette. As the 19th century drew to a close, lawyer and inventor Elijah Bond had the idea of selling the planchette with a board that had the words “yes,” “no,” ‘goodbye,” the English alphabet, and the numerals 0 through 9. Some boards are elaborately adorned with mystical symbols to further the mythology of the ritual. Science believes that for the most part that it is just the persons involved subconscious moving the planchette. Either way, Ouija boards figure prominently in paranormal horror films. Perhaps the most famous and cinematically the most important film that features the Ouija board as portal to the dead and demonic is the “The Exorcist.” An unwitting Regan (Linda Blair) opens herself up to possession by the demon “Pazuzu.”

Ouija: Olivia Cooke| A Constantly Racing Mind
As the story progressed, I was reminded of the many  paranormal horror films that I've seen before, but without that emotional high. As the telltale inscription, "hi friend,” began showing up in the film, I had a bad sense of Deja vu. I was hoping that the filmmakers would do more to unravel the mystery of the mysterious spirit board itself, rather than remake the familiar ghost/slasher film that wallows in mediocrity. Olivia Cooke does a decent job and does her best to hold up a weak script. The special effects seemed rushed or in some cases hokey. A few of the important death scenes are either rushed, or only alluded to. At best, I would classify “Ouija” as slightly entertaining but like eating a salad for dinner, you’re still hungry and unsatisfied. Watch "Ouija" at the theater at your own risk, or you can do one of several things. You could wait until the powers that be release the film on DVD, which is my vote, or you can go out, get your own witch board, and scare up some of your own real frights.


Movie Data

Genre: Horror
Year:  2014
Staring: Olivia Cooke, Ana Coto, Daren Kagasoff, Bianca A. Santos, Douglas Smith, Lin Shaye
Director: Stiles White
Producer(s): Michael Bay, Jason Blum, Andrew Form, Bradley Fuller, Brian Goldner, Bennett Schneir
Writer: Stiles White, Juliet Snowden
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 89 minutes
Release Date: 10/24/2014

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Fury: A War of Contrition

Fury: Brad Pitt and crew | A Constantly Racing Mind
C ivil War General William Tecumseh Sherman once said, "War is Hell." David Ayer ("End of Watch," "Training Day Training Day"), the writer and director of "Fury" wants to show us exactly that. In his new film, set in the last days of World War II Germany, a tank crew fights desperately as they roll into Germany on their way to Berlin. Brad Pitt ("Inglorious Basterds," "World War Z") stars as the leader of a five-man tank crew that has been fighting together since North Africa. While the film draws upon many war films before it, and at times may seem a bit clichéd, it is actually refreshing to have a somewhat realistic film that portrays the horrors of battle and spirit of patriotism, courage, and honor. Be prepared to sit through over two hours of action, the hell of battle, and the triumph of humanity over evil. "Fury" is rated R for violence, grisly images, and plenty of swearing.

In many ways, "Fury" reminds me of the John Wayne films that I grew up on as a kid. Sergeant Don 'Wardaddy' Collier (Pitt) gives the impression to his tank crew that he's not there to win any friends, but to get the job done. Collier's tank, with the words Fury painted onto the side of the Sherman's 75 mm gun is manned by gunner Boyd 'Bible' Swan played by Shia LaBeouf ("Lawless," "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull") who purportedly cut his face to create a scar and removed a tooth for authenticity in this film. Jon Bernthal ("The Walking Dead") plays the loader (sets the timers and loads the shells into the gun) Grady 'Coon-Ass' Travis, while Michael Peña is Trini 'Gordo' Garcia, the tanks driver. Near the beginning of the film, we meet the crew after a disastrous battle where they lost their forward machine gunner. Upon arriving back at camp, we meet the dead gunner's replacement, Norman Ellison played by Logan Lerman ("Noah," "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters") a raw recruit with no experience through whose eyes we see the events of war unfold in front of us. For Norman, this is a coming of age film, that takes place in a matter of days as the war immerses Norman into its tragedy.

Some say the winners write the history, however, after many years of seeing WWII documentaries, and studying WWII, I had to reassure my wife, that much of what we saw on the screen happened. As we see through Norman's eyes, a clerk whose time in the US Army spans only a few months, the war is winding down, and Hitler saw defeat was near, he called upon the German people to fight to the last man, woman and child. Actually forcing them at gunpoint to take up arms. 

After cleaning out the remains of his predecessor, from the machine gunner's seat, we join Norman as Collier and crew take on their next mission of breaking through German defenses and "liberate" the next town on their way to the Elbe River. In "Fury," Norman, just a kid himself, finds himself in moral conflict upon firing upon what he perceives as kids, and the already dead. An encounter with kids dressed as SS soldiers initially wakes Norman up as they fire a rocket into the lead tank. Although Norman saw the enemy in the bushes, in fear, he did nothing. 

"You can't learn the easy way, you'll learn the hard way." John Wayne as Sgt. John M. Stryker (Sands of Iwo Jima - 1949) 

Fury: Brad Pitt & Logan Lerman | A Constantly Racing MindWhat I found impressive about "Fury" was not only Brad Pitt's performance, but how as a leader, embodied the spirit of John Wayne. After a battle that the "Fury," two other tank crews, and infantry forces, won by strategy and brute force, Wardaddy, wants to teach Norman a lesson. The lesson is either kill or be killed. Collier wants Norman to kill a captured German soldier who clearly has surrendered and is pleading for his life. Now the scene is controversial, in that the years of war have taken its toll on the morale, morals, and conscience of the soldiers. Norman pleads to forfeit his own life instead of having the guilt of murdering a man in cold blood on his conscience. After forcing Norman physically to aim the gun and shoot the man, Norman walks away claiming that because he was forced to do it physically, and because he resisted, and his soul is still clean. While being encouraged by the rest of the crew, we find that the characters of the rest of the tank crew not so shallow. 

LaBeouf's character has the nickname of "Bible." As we see after the battle, he goes to his fallen comrades and prays the Lord's Prayer with them as they lay dying. Yet he has no problem, taking aim and firing on whatever target Collier tells him to. As "Gordo" (Peña) tells Norman, that at one time or other, Collier has saved their lives. Another aspect of the film, that I must note, is that as the end drew near for the National Socialists (Nazis) they went from town to town and recruited from the populace, old men, and young children in the defense of the Fatherland. If they failed to comply, they were tortured and hung up in the town's square as an example of cowardice. I remember a film of Hitler in Berlin days before he commits suicide, reviewing the troops of children soldiers and old men, hungry and frail ready to defend their city. As Wardaddy Collier notes during a brief interlude between battles that, “Ideals are peaceful but history is violent. He also notes that although his job to kill Germans, Collier too struggles to maintain his humanity. Like Captain Miller, in “Saving Private Ryan,” he must take a moment from time to time to collect himself away from his men.  

Fury: Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Michael Peña, Jon Bernthal | A Constantly Racing Mind
Ayer tries to show that each member of the crew is multidimensional in some way, Bernthal’s “Coon-Ass” is just that an ass. At times during the film, you find his character so repulsive that you want him dead. However, after a scene where he confesses to Norman, that he acts the way he does as a defense from all the horrors of war that he hates all humanity, but he thinks Norman is all right. “Gordo,” if anything, is loyal. While Hispanics where considered white during the 1940s there was still an element of discrimination. With the crew of Fury, he is a full member of the crew. “Best job I ever had,” he exclaims as the group settles in for their final battle. When LaBeouf’s character quotes from the Bible the book of Isaiah Chapter 6 verse 8, “Whom shall I send and who will go for Us?” not only does Norman replay “send me,” but Wardaddy knows the verse. These men are exhausted but cling to their former selves as much as possible.  

A scene midway through the film may find some controversy. From the beginning of Norman’s initiation as a member of the crew, the guys come off as crude when it comes to German women. “She’ll do you for a chocolate bar,” and comments like that,  but when Collier and Norman meet two women hiding in an apartment out of fear of retaliation by the conquerors, Wardaddy shows them a measure of humanity. Norman, and a cute German girl (Alicia von Rittberg) his age find a moment of peace and pleasure in what could be their very short lives.  Some may argue that in reality many soldiers forced themselves onto the women, or that the girl in the film was compelled to have sex with Norman, but I prefer to see it the way Ayers intended as respite for hate for a moment of love. 

Although some may balk at the final battle at the crossroads, this action comes only three months after Lt. Audie Murphy held off a German force of infantry and tanks with a .50 caliber machine gun until reinforcements came. I liked “Fury” for various reasons. The story is a decent hero on a mission against all odds, a main character who walks the line of morality and duty, a group of actors who work hard to bring some depth to otherwise stock characters, and some decent tank battles. “Fury” doesn’t depict all Germans as Nazis and I think that is fair, the soundtrack is overbearing at times, but the cinematography is in a way gorgeous. If you are a Brad Pitt fan, or a fan of WWII films then “Fury” is a film for you.  

Movie Data

Genre: Action, Drama, War
Year:  2014
Staring: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Peña, Jon Bernthal
Director: David Ayer
Producer(s): David Ayer, Bill Block, John Lesher, Ethan Smith, Brad Pitt (executive producer)
Writer:  David Ayer
Rating: R
Running Time: 134 minutes
Release Date: 10/17/2014

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Literary and Cinematic Origins of Dracula

Vampire books and movie surround us today in our society, Books, and films as recent as "The Vampires Assistant," "Twilight," and many others all who owe Irish author and playwright Bram Stoker, for writing the horror masterpiece "Dracula." Although I have seen the Bela Lugosi as the dark Count, Frank Langella as the romantic Dracula, and Christopher Lee's version of the character, but it wasn't until High School that I got around to read Bram Stoker's "Dracula." My personal copy of the Bram Stoker classic is the "Leonard Wolf Annotated Dracula," version where Mr. Wolf provides the introduction, notes, and bibliography. The artist Sätty provides the artwork that adorns the pages of this book. Gothic lithographs and beautiful maps of England and Romania help create the illusion of reality that Stoker brought to the pages in 1897. Released on May 26, Stoker wrote a novel, that I found absolutely creepy and nightmarish when I first read it. Unlike most novels written in second or third person narrative form, Stoker creates a world of utter believability by writing "Dracula" in the form of letters, diary entries, or newspaper clippings. As if he, Stoker, was the editor, piecing together an event in history and providing us with evidence of the account, creating in a fashion, a found footage narrative. The story of an English solicitor traveling to the dark woods of Transylvania to conduct a real estate contract between a Eastern European noble, Count Dracula, and his firm. The solicitor, Jonathon Harker becomes drawn into a world that, in Stoker's time, confined to tales told at night beside the fireplace.  

Tod Browning telling of "Dracula" in 1931, for a long time was the version that many remember to this day. Taking liberties with the story, and turning Renfield into the solicitor that travels to Castle Dracula, and then captured by the Count, changed the story in a way that simplified its telling for the audience. The star, Bela Lugosi, embodied the character of Dracula throughout his career and into the grave. For audiences of the time, at a time as the United States was entering the Great Depression, Dracula was an escape into the dark eerie world of the supernatural. By 1958, the story had changed a bit more turning Harker, not as a solicitor, but into a librarian. Peter Cushing ("Star Wars") starred as Doctor Van Helsing, and Christopher Lee ("The Fellowship of the Ring," "Star Wars: Episode II - The Attack of the Clones") as Dracula, together they made unforgettable adversaries. By the time I was in High School, Frank Langella ("Lolita, "The Ninth Gate") starred in director John Badham's romantic version of the count. "Dracula" is now less a monster and more of a romantic figure seducing the women and inciting them into a venereal lust.  

Not until Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 version, captures not only the spirit of the novel, but to some degree more or less the literalism of the book as well. For me, the appeal to Coppola's version is that he creates a backstory for Dracula that seems quasi-plausible in light of history of Vlad the Impaler. In this version, screenwriter James V. Hart tells us at the beginning of the film, that when the Eastern Roman Empire capital of Constantinople fell in 1453, the Ottoman Empire, led by Sultan Mehmed II swept throughout Eastern Europe. On June 17, 1462, Vlad III, of the sacred order of the Dracul (Dragon), a Prince of Wallachia in Transylvania, made the daring "Atacul de noapte de la Târgoviste" or Night Attack, engaged Mehmed on the battlefield. While Vlad III is victorious on the battlefield, Coppola turns to folklore to take the story a step further. A defeated Turkish soldier shoots an arrow into Vlad III's chamber with a note attached to it saying that Vlad Dracul is dead. His wife Elisabeta flings herself into the river below, committing suicide. Vlad Dracul is shown as a Christian Knight who upon realizing that the Orthodox Priests refuse his wife burial on holy ground, blasphemies against the Church and God, causing a cross to bleed. Upon drinking the blood that flows from the religious symbol, he takes on immortal life and the curse of the need to feast on the blood of the living. With an all-star cast with Gary Oldman as the infamous Count, he leads Winona Ryder as Mina Harker, away from her true love Jonathon, played by Keanu Reeves. 

"Dracula 2000" tells another origin story. The main characters are thinly veiled versions of the well-known characters of Mina, Johnathon, and Lucy, the characters of Dracula and Van Helsing are solid. In this version, Dracula is none other than Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Christ. For two thousand years, he suffers the curse of immortality. Gerard Butler ("300," "Phantom of the Opera") is Dracula, while Christopher Plummer ("The Sound of Music” "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country") is Abraham Van Helsing. All of these versions of the Dracula character have something for fans of the vampire genre. However, they are merely plot points in the larger story arc of good against evil.

In "Dracula Untold" director Gary Shore gives a fleshed out account of Dracula's attempt to hold back the Ottoman Turks. In doing so, he needs to call on a higher power, a darker power, for help in his fight against the invading Muslims. Luke Evans ("Immortals") plays the Romanian Voivode (warlord) and Sarah Gadon ("The Amazing Spider-Man 2 ") plays his wife Mirena. Dominic Cooper ("Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter") is the Sultan Mehmed. Drawing from Slavic folklore, screenwriters Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless introduce us to a Baba Yaga, an ugly witch disguised as a beautiful woman. In this version of Dracula, he has a son played by Art Parkinson and his name is Ingeras. Vlad had three children by two women. His first wife's name isn't documented anywhere other than folklore. His child with his unnamed wife was Mihnea cel Rău. He lived to be about 50 and spent much of his time trying to regain his father's throne. He was assassinated while attending Mass in Sibiu in the historical region of Transylvania in Romania.

Dracula is a folk hero to the Romanian people, but to the West, he is known as Vlad Țepeș the Impaler. As a young man, Vlad and his younger brother Radu (the handsome) were Turkish political prisoners. The Turks trained the young noblemen in horsemanship and in war. While Radu embraced his Turkish overlords, Vlad despised them. As Prince of Wallachia, he terrorized the Turks and impaled thousands of them at one time, that the locals considered him bloodthirsty. In "Dracula Untold," Vlad makes a deal with the Master Vampire, Caligula played by "Game of Thrones" Charles Dance. In this version, Dracula is a hero, rather than the monster that Bram Stoker made him to be. 


Monday, October 6, 2014

Taking Move Fandom to the Next Level, Create Your Own Costumes

A Look at How Movie Fans Shows their Love for their Favorite Films.

Home made Darth Vader Costume | A Constantly Racing Mind
Did you know that the word fan comes from the word fanatic and is defined as, "a person with an extreme and uncritical enthusiasm or zeal, as in religion or politics.” Movie fans are a different breed of people all together, like me, for example. In my years of being a fan of a certain films, I have found myself inspired to manifest my passion for the film outwardly. Some people, however, in my opinion adopt film fandom as part of their lifestyle. The lifestyle movie fans never leave their favorite movie characters personas, going to work as that character every day, their bosses accept their quirkiness, and they do respectable work. I will leave those types of fans for another article. This article is about a fan's passion for how Star Wars, drove this author to want to instill that love of film and creativity in the next generation. Here, is how to do it.

A fan of the Star Wars franchise for many years, I would stand in line, waiting hours for tickets, just to get into the theater for the midnight showing of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, and Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi. In trying to inspire my children to enjoy films, as much as I do, I decided to dress up for the first time several years ago to show my kids, who were young at the time, that with a little imagination, they too can create any movie costume for themselves. The month before Halloween, I set my garage into my private fortress of solitude, where every night I would cover my work with a sheet, keeping my family in the dark what I was building. I actually had two projects going on at the same time.

The Light Saber

Home-made Light Sabers | A Constantly Racing Mind"Not clumsy like a blaster, an elegant weapon for a more civilized time, before the emperor, before the dark times," says Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars IV, A New Hope. Building your own blaster takes some effort and a tiny bit of skill and a lot of patience. Light Saber parts are all available at your local hardware store, and auto parts shop. The main body for my light saber is a sink tailpiece, purchased at my local Home Depot. Next short length PVC, and a pack of “ELCO” 1" D-rings (picture hanging equipment), a metal hole plug for the back end of the light saber, thumbscrew also in the small parts section at the hardware store. Also, needed are a plastic Fujifilm 35mm film canister, some small rubber slip joint washer,    Rubber beveled faucet washer, and a brass-knurled nut. I cut the wiper refills into four equal sections and after drilling eight sets of small holes around the metal tube, and drilled two equal distant holes in the wiper pieces themselves, using a rivet gun, I bolted them onto the handle. Next, I cut off the opposite end about 3.5 inches. The PVC pipe servers as an emitter and I cut that into a 5 ¼-inch piece, and then cut off a forty-degree angle off the other end. After I had bolted the pieces together, I ended up with an elegant looking Light Saber, for just under $25.00.

The mostly homemade Darth Vader suit. 

Me in my home-made Light Sabers | A Constantly Racing MindYou can buy a cheap Vader costume on line for around $30.00 dollars, or you can buy an expensive one for $600 dollars: or more, however, you can also use your imagination and make your own. Movie props and costumes are usually not terribly impressive under scrutiny: however, most folks are too impressed with the fact that suit is homemade to nit-pick. Most movie fans generally show a certain amount of latitude for the do-it-yourselfers to quibble about the exactness of a costume. However, if purchased, then the critics do come out and it is a free for all. For the Darth Vader's costume, I started with the shoulder armor, by creating it out of strips of vinyl place mats, cut into strips and hot-glued together, placing black stripes over the grey. At one point, I thought about using some hockey or football shoulder pads, but they didn't look right. I created the chest piece out of a sturdy gift box, antenna parts, star-shaped cookie cutters, some I/O ports from an old computer, and two Scrabble pieces, one painted red, and the other blue. My next-door neighbor hemmed and sewed Darth Vader's cape, and a piece off black faux-leather material for the 'inner shirt.’ Over that I used an old black graduation gown with sleeves cut off to simulate the robe that Vader wears under his armor. Black pants, tall black boots, and a nylon belt from the craft store finish the main outfit. To accessorize, I purchased off eBay, the belt buckle, and the Darth Vader helmet. Taking too project boxes form Radio Shack, I inserted a few red and green LEDs into them, found a circuit board pattern and a switch. A few touches of the soldering iron and I had a two boxes I could mount on the belt that would light up. The price of this costume was more expensive due to the price of the helmet and the belt buckle. The fun of finding the parts around the store and the satisfaction outweighed the cost for parts, and the time to assemble them. However, the look on my kid's face when Darth Vader strode in from the garage was... Priceless.

Trick-or-treating with R2-D2 

My son in a home-made R2-D2 cosutme | A Constantly Racing Mind
My son who was six at the time, wanted to be R2-D2 for Halloween, and as far as I could see at the time, none were available. Going out to Wal-Mart and grabbing a dome covered white plastic trashcan, I created a costume for my son. By drilling out the bottom, and using a hole-drilling die, I cut arms into the sides of the can. I used balsa wood for the eyepiece and a piece of plastic piping for the actual camera "eye."

Film Premakes

Other forms of extreme fandom manifests in other ways too. For example, Ivan Guerrero, of the whoiseyevan website on YouTube creates entertaining movie trailers from favorite movies. A sort of,’ what if,’ take on some popular films. Ivan has a unique take on films like Raider's of the Lost Ark, doing a 1950's look by taking old film footage and adapting it to the theme of the movie. Called Premakes, Ivan sometimes takes various genres and mashes them together, creating a "mash-ups.” Check out the whoiseyevan website to see Ivan's premake of Star Wars 1947 and other amazing premakes.

Whether you create a costume as intricate as Darth Vader’s, or something more simple, let these examples of film fandom inspire your creativity and this summer, take a risk show your love for your favorite movie.

Orginally published on Associated Content by Robert Barbere on 5/26/2010

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Interstellar: This World Is A Tragedy

Interstellar: Poster| A Constantly Racing Mind.
Before you know it we will be heading into November and into theaters to witness Christopher Nolan's great space adventure, as we watch as humankind ventures into the far reaches of the holy void of space.  Here is another "Interstellar" trailer to feast your eye upon and tap your foot impatiently waiting for October to end. 

Academy Award Winner Matthew McConaughey,  and Anne Hathaway from "The Dark Knight Rises" team up to travel billions of miles in search of a new home for humanity.  Since the industrial revolution, human beings pollute the Earth at a rate that grows exponentially each year. With certain gases in the atmosphere blocking heat from escaping, other gasses that linger in the atmosphere do not change in temperature and 'force' climate change.  From ice melting at the polar caps, to drought and dust storms throughout the world, it is clear that we are quickening our own doom.  The Earth as McConaughey's character Cooper says in the the film, "It's been telling us to leave for a while now."

In the trailer below we see Cooper (McConaughey) finding a crashed drone and discusses with his daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) what to do with it. Next we see images of the Earth as seen from a rocket taking off and jettisoning one of its rocket stages. Similar to many scenes we've seen on TV with the Apollo missions and in films like "Apollo 13" with Tom Hanks. "Your daughter's generation will be the last to survive on Earth.," says Michael Caine's character. Images of our solar system display while a soft piano plays over a fast beat of violins playing in the background as Cooper and Brand (Hathaway) prepare to enter the wormhole and leave our galaxy. Their rocket ship descends toward a planet and next we find them walking on a new planet. Next, we see some amazing scenes of this alien other world. Cooper exclaims, "Our mission does not work if the people on Earth are dead by the time we pull it off."  Then we see a shuttlecraft landing on water and both Brand and Cooper in the water. At the end, Cooper declares that humankind will "...find a way, like we always have."

 Here is the synopsis from IMDB and Wikipedia:
A group of explorers make use of a newly discovered wormhole to surpass the limitations on human space travel and conquer the vast distances involved in an interstellar voyage. Among the travelers is a widowed engineer (McConaughey) who has to decide to leave behind his two children to join the voyage with the goal of saving humanity
Look for Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar" is due out on November 7, 2014 in the United States.


Movie Data
Genre: Action, Adventure, Mystery, Sci-Fi 
Year:  2014
Staring:  Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine 
Director: Christopher Nolan
Producer(s): Christopher Nolan, Lynda Obst, Emma Thomas
Writer: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 169 minutes
Release Date: 11/7/2014

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner: Poster | A Constantly Racing Mind
D irector Wes Ball takes James Dashner's 2007 novel "The Maze Runner" and along with 20th Century Fox turns it into a Young Adult action adventure tale for the whole family. "Teen Wolf's" Dylan O'Brien stars as a young man sent into The Glade that resides within the middle of a gigantic concrete maze. "The Maze Runner" is a film that has a formula found in recent YA Fiction.  Films in this genre typically originate from a novel, the main character is "chosen" and usually there is a mystery surrounding the protagonists origin. However, Ball's adaptation will resonate not only with the young adult audiences, but with adults as well.

“The Maze Runner” starts with a chaotic caged elevator ride to the surface. Inside the cage is a disoriented and scared youth. A group of teens roughly his own age greets the boy once the elevator reaches the top. As they open the top cage door of the elevator, we can see canned goods and other provisions in the cage with the boy. The group asks the young man for his name, but he can't remember. When they pull him out of the cage, he dashes away from the group. When he sees the enormous concrete wall, he stumbles and falls. The boys in The Glade are pf various ages and races. There is Alby (Aml Ameen - "Lee Daniels' The Butler"), the first to arrive in the Glade and welcomes the new kid to the group. Then there is Gally played by Will Poulter ("We're the Millers," "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,") who  is more antagonistic toward this new kid, whom they name Greenie. Having no memories is disorienting at best, panic inducing at worst. This is a new world for the kid and Alby explains the rules to him. First rule is that no one goes into the maze. However, the new kid notices that he sees two other boys wake up early and waits for the maze to open, which it does daily, and then they run in it. Alby explains that they are Maze Runners and it is their job to map the maze and look for a way out. That night the boys enjoy a tribal atmosphere as the boys light a bonfire and wrestle in the dirt. Gally is there fighting with another boy. As Alby and the boy pass, Gally challenges the kid to a round. Gally is the clear champion, however, the new guy makes a good go at him. Gally slams the kid to the floor. As he hit the ground he hits his head, and the boy remembers that his name is Thomas (O’Brien) and as he gets up, he shouts out his name. He is a person now. 

The Maze Runner: Arrival | A Constantly Racing Mind
No one offers the boys and the audience a reason for the maze and for their existence there. Although Thomas has memories of his past life, they are at best fleeting. Most of the first half of the film takes place in The Glade. This gives us time to get to know characters like Newt, played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster, who is the voice of Ferb in "Phineas and Ferb," and plays Jojen Reed in “Game of Thrones.” Newt is amiable and instantly likes Thomas and has his back. Minho (Ki Hong Lee), the other Maze Runner, who helps Thomas when the maze trapped the two overnight. Blake Cooper ("Prosper"), short and stubby, Cooper's Chuck reminds me of Piggy in William Golding's "The Lord of the Flies." Finally, we meet Teresa (Kaya Scodelario - "Moon," "Clash of the Titans," "The Truth About Emanuel"), the only girl in The Glade. Teresa’s arrival brings some amusement, but along with it, a foreboding on the horizon. Thomas is clearly the chosen one, the hero of this story. O'Brien, however, plays the role of Thomas as very one dimensional, while others around him seem more solid. Looming in Thomas's fuzzy memory is Ava Paige played by Patricia Clarkson ("The East," "Shutter Island," "The Green Mile," "Jumanji") . Thomas isn't really sure who Paige is, but he does remember her telling him that "Wicked is good."

Many people question the meaning of life and some philosophies point in the direction of happiness as the ultimate goal in life. However, that leads to the next question; what is happiness, while other worldviews have more hedonistic values. In "The Maze Runner,"  the boys' existence in The Glade is a metaphor for our existence on this planet, and that the reason for being is a grand test. Not only are we being tested for our will to survive, but also for our worthiness of survival. If we pass the test, there are greater glories that we can ascend to. Part of the test is solving the mysteries in life, finding those little clues that hint at at something more than just what we are and will lead us to the next level. 

Having the teens wake up with no memory is a metaphor for us as humans in that we arrive on Earth with no memories of any previous existence (if there is one). That we are on this Earth with little or no direction and have to determine our own set of rules and create our own societies and civilizations. Alby, the first, tells about a time when life in The Glade was chaotic and turbulent before rules. Alby the lawgiver, made the rules, and that following them was important or people will die. Like in the early days of the human history, we made up laws that, at the time, made sense. Rules like "don't eat pork" because you had to cook pork properly to kill all the bacteria that incubate within their systems. Or laws that define sex between male and female(s), because in the ancient world the tribe needed a constant supply of new members while forming a self sustaining society by providing workers, soldiers and children. Remember, there is safety in numbers. Rules that don't necessarily apply in today's world. 

In the metaphorical world of "The Maze Runner," Teresa serves as a sort of Eve to Thomas's Adam. While Thomas is not the first person to enter The Glade, which represents a sort of Garden of Eden, he is the first to have a spirit of adventure and a quest for knowledge. Prior to his arrival, the residents of The Glade, including the current Runners, 
only explore the maze in a passive manner; because it is their role so they do so. 

In traditional religious texts, which maligns the role of women, the author here too twists the role of women to serve the narrative as the harbinger of doom. In Greek mythologythe ancient Greek poet Hesiod, wrote the poem "The Works and Days.” In the story,  the Greek gods created Pandora as a punishment for man. Pandora is the similar the Eve character in The Bible. In The Glade, the residents live in relative peace, protected from the Grievers at night (because the Maze doors close at night), and if they follow the rules,and  work together, they too will live as prisoners in a peaceful world. With the arrival of Teresa, the creators have both literally and symbolically sent her with a mes declaring that "she is the last". But also like Pandora, she also brings with her -- hope. 

After pulling out a small metallic cylinder from a dead Griever, a biomechanical
spider/scorpion creature, the teens discover a clue to their existence, and possibly to their escape. Many religions and charismatic speakers claim to have found The Way, some have visions like the Apostle Paul, or John of Patmos, or others like the Prophet Mohammed, who has claimed instruction from angelic beings, while others find these clues in golden plates hidden in the Earth. Thomas and Minho try to decipher the mystery of the symbol and the electronic 7 that glows on the side of the cylinder labeled with the letters WCKD. Gally is the Doubting Thomas and Judas combined into one character. He is intent on the keeping current social structure and like many conservative voices today who preach the horrors of change, he clings to the myth that what we have in this world is the best we will ever have. Chuck is our innocence lost. His instant liking for Thomas and his willingness to break the rules on his behalf by bringing him food when Thomas is in the punishment pit, tells us he aligns himself with what is good in the story. 

Wes Ball has four directorial credits with three of them being short films. Most of Ball's experience in the film industry is in the art department working on documentaries creating behind the scenes special features. Ball worked on "Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant - Guide to Becoming a Vampire," "Star Trek: Aliens" and a whole slew of graphics for various "Star Trek" documentaries. His first special feature was for the 2004 version of Tony Scott's "Man on Fire" titled "The Making of 'Man on Fire'." As his first feature length film, Ball gives us a fine introduction into the world of James Dashner's trilogy of "Maze Runner" novels. 

Scriptwriters Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers, and T.S. Nowlin provide the viewer with plenty of action, adventure, and mystery. The scriptwriters renders Dashner's novel into something that theater goers can digest in just under two hours, by weeding out plot points that work well as literature but fail miserably in cinema. There is plenty of questions to answer, and just enough clues enticing us to see what happens next in "The Scorch Trials." John Paesano's ("When the Game Stands Tall," "DreamWorks Dragons") score is brassy and loud, giving the film a very full and mature feeling. Enrique Chediak's ("Europa Report," "Repo Men," "28 Weeks Later,") cinematography establishes the world of the "The Maze Runner" as visually stable and impressive. I found “The Maze Runner” is a fun adventure film, but a story that one can reflect about our purpose in life and who is really running the show.

Movie Data
Genre: Action, Mystery, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Year:  2014
Staring: Dylan O'Brien, Thomas Brodie-Sangster,Aml Ameen, Ki Hong Lee, Blake Cooper, Kaya Scodelario, Will Poulter Patricia Clarkson
Director: Wes Ball
Producer(s): Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey, Gotham Group, Lee Stollman, Lindsay Williams
Writer: Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers, T.S. Nowlin, James Dashner (novel)
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 113 minutes
Release Date: 8/8/2014