Saturday, October 22, 2016

Remembering the two First Families of Halloween

Long ago, in a decade far, far away during the monster craze period, two wonderfully creepy family shows were released through different networks and ended up competing against each other to everyone's delight.

According to Wikipedia, The Addams Family aired for two seasons on ABC from September 18, 1964 to April 8, 1966 for a total of 64 episodes; while The Munsters aired on CBS from September 24, 1964, to May 12, 1966 with a total of 70 episodes. Both shows have lived in our cultural psyche ever since through reruns in syndication and now video collections, becoming enduring franchises.

I had the chance to discover them in the early 70’s and immediately became enamored with the concept (as a child I even had my mom sew me up a black Herman Munster costume and buy me a red Herman rubber mask… yeah, red, go figure).

The Munsters had an arguably successful revival with The Munsters Today, a more traditional sitcom which (according to Wikipedia) “broadcast 72 episodes from October 8, 1988, to May 25, 1991, giving it more first-run episodes than the original series”. However, I doubt anyone under 35 remembers this iteration.
In 2012 they tried to unsuccessfully reboot the franchise with something called Mockingbird Lane (a reference to the Munsters’ home street name). Immediately since I saw the photos and read the concept, I guessed it would fail miserably -and it did (although I can’t be sure why, since I haven’t had the chance to watch it). I’m not a sightseer or the best TV concept analyst, but it obviously derived too strongly from the original’s vibe.

The Addams Family, on the other hand, has had various successful reincarnations including an animated cartoon in the 70’s, another animated series in 1992, and of course the great, classic Raul Julia / Anjelica Huston films of 1991 and 1993.

There have been other iterations of both franchises (TV movies, a Munsters' theatrical rekease with the original cast, animated series and even an Addams Family play), but these are the most enduring ones.
Now, even when The Munsters have been my favorites ever since my early childhood, I have to recognize The Addams family as the best developed concept.

So now that we are in the Halloween mood, following are the basic ideas I believe are behind each original incarnation so you can be the judge if later revivals kept close to them and if that had anything to do with their success (or lack thereof):

As everyone knows, The Addams Family is based on the dark and delightfully macabre cartoons of Charles Addams, however the TV show had many more layers to it: you had a very strange but united family, a family who had a very impresssive (albeit weird) lineage that saw everyone else as “strange”, and which was ironically seen by others like eccentric nouveau rich.

Even when to everyone else they were weird, they weren’t a dysfunctional family, quite the contrary, they were a loving, supporting bunch. They saw themselves as a normal family with a strong lineage, pretty much accustomed to their wealth –which made them abhor the rich, uptight and pretentious guests that sometimes dropped into their home.

That's what made them so appealing: they made you feel your own weird, dysfunctional family was normal in comparison. They behaved weirdly and were proud of it, not trying to change to fit within the society that surrounded them.

The Munsters, on the other hand, were immigrants from Transylvania, referred most of the time as "the old Country" (this in a time when post-WWII european immigration was fairly common). They were trying their best to subdue their nature to become the typical all-american family while looking like the classic Universal Monsters. They even had visits from the Gillman (Uncle Gilbert) and the Wolfman (Lester Dracula, Lily's brother) among other creatures.

Even when the basic idea was not very strong (making fun of contemporary family oriented sitcoms with monstruous characters) the real key to their success was the wonderfully talented cast:

Fred Gwynne, Al Lewis and the glamorous Ivonne DeCarlo did an amazing job creating and portraying these characters, supported by Butch Patrick, who played Eddie Munster like a normal kid, and the stunning Beverly Owen and Pat Priest, who both played the part of Marilyn Munster, the awkwardly "ugly" duckling of the family. These characters were faced with typical, suburban problems, and the comedy derived from people reacting to them, even though they behaved "normally".

To be successful, both The Munsters and The Addams Family need extraordinary actors to portray them (Raul JuliaAnjelica HustonChristopher Lloyd and Christina Ricci were essential in making the 90's Addams films a success), however while The Adddams Family is a great, fully conceived concept, The Munsters needs to be visually referential to its source, otherwise it's main appeal is lost.

Thinking about the creative process, it seems like The Munsters were the result of a TV studio creative concept meeting, while The Addams were born from the imagination and sensibility of an artist and built upon by other creative minds, making it a seemingly stronger basic idea.

Anyway, Halloween is the perfect time to revisit them and, even when I love them both, the original Munsters are still my favorites!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Pathway into the Stars

As someone who was born in 1970, one year after man first set foot on the Moon, I grew up believing space travel was a common thing.

As a boy, I regularly watched TV series like Space 1999, Star Trek, the British UFO and the Japanese Ultraman, so to me starfighters were as common as a Sopwith Camel or a Curtiss P-3​6 Hawk might have been to my dad (and remember, this was a few years before Star Wars!).

Some of my TV heroes such as Steve Austin (The Six Million Dollar Man), Virdon and Burke (The Planet of the Apes TV series), and even I Dream of Jeannie’s Major Anthony Nelson, were all astronauts.

One of my favorite movies was “Journey to the Far Side of the Sun” starring Roy Thinnes. It was one of those slow, bleak-ending films with a weird premise about an astronaut finding a mirror-image Earth at the other side of the Sun. I don’t recall much about the story, but I remember I loved the space-travel aspects of it… and the bleak ending. Oh, how I loved those bleak endings back then (any of the first four Planet of the Apes’ films, anyone?).

Last year I had the opportunity to re-visit NASA’s Space Center in Houston with the wife and kids.

I was there many, many, MANY years ago when I was a boy myself; back when I couldn’t grasp the magnitude of what I was seeing. This time I clearly remembered the small auditorium they let you in to see the original Mission Control Center.

What I didn’t remember was that this medium-sized room behind Mission Control used to hold the computer mainframe that put the first men on the moon. This room, the tour guide explained, was filled with refrigerator-sized machines with processors and memory banks that amounted to… get ready for this… 4MB!! Yes, the guide concluded, the same amount of memory taken up by 4 or 5 hi-res photographs from your cell phone was enough to send the first men to the Moon.

Then we went to see the exhibitions… there was this HUGE hangar that held the gargantuan engines that propelled the rockets into space, basically a fuel bomb waiting to explode behind their backs.

And then we visited the dark exhibition room where they have the original space capsules and space suits. Remember I mentioned I Dream of Jeannie before? There’s this scene where Major Nelson lands on a beach and finds Jeannie’s lamp. I always thought the capsule looked ridiculously small and fake, as if it was made of flimsy tinfoil. Well… turns out it was pretty accurate to the actual thing. Capsules back then really looked like large metal cans with barely enough room to hold astronauts inside with their equipment and space suits. My God… talk about feeling cramped. My car’s backseat has more leg room than those guys had… and to think they were sitting in these small tin cans on top of those gigantic rockets brimming with the most explosive, flammable fuel, hoping they would get them to the Moon and back…

We also saw a couple of films that talked about the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle disasters. I vividly remember the first one because as a fifteen year old I watched the launch live on TV and the impression of watching the ship go up in smoke burnt a lasting mark in my psyche.

I’m writing all this down because technology has made such giant leaps that we sometimes forget how far we’ve gone in such a small amount of time. We’ve become cynical and impatient, wishing the space program had gone beyond what they’ve already accomplished. Yes, I also think we should. However, it’s truly amazing that inhabited space stations and unmanned missions to mars are a reality.

Twentieth Century Fox (yup, blatant commercial time, kiddies) is releasing a film called “The Martian”, based on the book by Andy Weir and starring Matt Damon, later this year. I’m currently reading the book and, let me tell you, it pretty much nabs what a miracle -and a triumph to our ingenuity, man’s exploration of space is.

I’m also writing this to express my admiration for those first guys who had the courage to strap themselves to a tin can and explode their asses into space, and also for the men and women currently building our pathways into the stars.

I don’t think we give them enough credit.

If you are interested in learning more from NASA’s current programs, here’s a list of links they gave us at the end of our visit. Check a couple of these out, just out of curiosity. I bet you will be surprised:

NASA Homepage
Space Flight – Shuttle and ISS
Cool Sites for Kids
Ditigal Images
Mars Exploration Program
Human Space Exploration
Nasa Spin-offs
Nasa Info in Spanish

Friday, July 11, 2014

Your own personal Holy Grail

First off, I've just realized I haven’t posted anything since last October… which goes to prove I really only post when I have something to say.

However, I've got to write down on my agenda reminders to update my blog periodically!

Ok, off to today’s subject: the Holy Grail.

As everyone knows, the Grail from the legends of King Arthur is supposedly the cup from which Christ drank during the Last Supper and later became the sacred object of various Knights’ quests. The ultimate McGuffin, if you will (masterfully used in films such as John Boorman’s Excalibur and Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade).

The Grail represents the ultimate prize, powerful and valuable enough to justify life-long quests and epic crusades.

So I got to thinking: is there a Holy Grail in my life? Should everyone have one?

And the answer, of course, is yes. And I don’t think it should be generic stuff as “be happy” or the common “get married and have kids”, because as those of us who have gone through that know very well, marriage and kids should not be a lifelong objective (it’s an important part of the journey, not a destination).

No. The Holy Grail should be your ultimate objective, something truly spectacular: Fortune and Glory, World Domination, Ultimate Enlightenment… the stuff of legends.

That’s the whole point of having a Holy Grail. Even when there’s a slight degree of plausibility, in most cases it should be elusive: so great that it becomes your unreachable guiding star, dictating your general life-long direction.

You may or may not reach it in the end, but it will become a beacon that will lead you to great adventures and an overall more enjoyable and purposeful life.

And of course, having found it or not, in the end there will come a point when you will probably have to let it go, with the satisfaction of having done everything you could to find it (and the memories of the countless adventures that went with it).

Recently I got to thinking what has been my life-long Holy Grail. The good news is I actually do have one that's been with me since I was very young.

The bad news is: I haven’t recently thought much about it. And when that happens you kind of lose your purpose, your momentum, your drive… you start drifting and moving with the everyday flow of things.

I've made a point about reminding myself what that goal is, and have purposefully started rowing back into course. This blog, hopefully, is part of that process.

Enough with this busy procrastination. Let the true epic crusade continue!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Early Halloween edition: What’s in a souvenir?

I finally have a little time to pick up my blog, and since we are already in October, I chose a Halloween-ish theme, only because the idea came up from a monster bobble head figure (even though it’s not really a Halloween-related monster).

If you weren’t a kid in the ‘60’s or very early ‘70’s you probably have no idea of who this character is:

That’s Ed “big daddy” Roth’s “Ratfink”. Ed Roth was a drag racing car aficionado and designed a lot of outlandish customs back in the '60's. He was also the cartoonist who created Ratfink, among many other similar frantic monstrous creatures (very similar to the Weird-Oh’s characters created by Bill Campbell). Anyway, that’s not really the point of today’s blog.

I grew up looking at some of these monstrous creatures around the house and they always bring back memories from my childhood. Last year while on vacation with the family in San Francisco, I visited the Cartoon Art Museum where I was fortunate enough to see some Mad Magazine and Marvel Comics’ originals, which was absolutely exciting (my wife and kids were ho-humming the time away, but at least they got a kick out of some of the most outrageous Mad cartoons, plus there was a small Paranorman exhibition featuring some of the original stop motion figures, so they had a good time too).

As we were coming out I stopped by the gift shop and bumped into this:

Yup, a Ratfink Wacky Wobbler figure. I really wanted to get it as a memento, but there was a group of people chatting away with the cashier and I decided I didn't want the family to wait any longer for me, so I left.

Months later I found the figure on Amazon and ordered it by mail. A few weeks later I received it at my hotel during one of our company’s L.A. Summits.

The point is (yep, it took me 8 paragraphs to get to it) that even when it’s great and all, it kinda lost its original appeal. And that's because I didn't get it at the right place at the right time: back in San Francisco, during one of the best trips we've ever had.

As I've grown older, I've lost interest in accumulating dust catchers and collectibles, but sometimes there’s this really cool souvenir you should get, not only for what it is, but because of what it represents at the moment you get it. If I had gotten that figure in San Francisco, it would have been a reminder of a great afternoon I spent with the wife and kids that also connected my early teen's fascination with comicbooks and my fun monstrous childhood memories. As it is, it’s just another cool looking plastic figure I got through the mail and out of a big brown cardboard box.

The advice here is: if you are going through a particularly memorable moment in your life and you find something that connects you to that moment, by all means try to get it (very different than trying to find something as a souvenir just because you want one; if it feels forced, it probably is). You will probably not regret it later. Not exactly rocket science, right? You probably could have gotten the same advice from your grandma while cleaning up the closet with her, but I had to get it out.

So there!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

A lesson from the workings of a teenage girl’s mind…

Hey, finally making a quick, much anticipated (mainly by me) comeback to my blog!

And to celebrate the occasion, I’d like to reminisce about something that happened to me a long time ago, when I was a teenager: one day, a friend’s daughter (she was about 6 years younger than me) anxiously asked if I liked Alyssa Milano. She was dead serious about it. Back then I only had a slight idea of who Alyssa Milano was (the girl who played Arnold Schwarzenegger’s daughter in “Commando”, right?) and I did think she was cute, so I told her so.

She immediately sighed with sincere relief, so I asked her why she was interested about it. She explained that Alyssa Milano was dating Corey Haim, and if I liked her I could date Alyssa so Corey would be free to date her.

Yes, she was absolutely certain of this.

That was a very enlightening moment about the workings of a young teenage girl’s mind, but more importantly, it was also a lesson about the perception that people have about us: She was actually convinced I could date Alyssa Milano, even if I thought it was impossible (and whoo-boy, would I have wanted to date Alyssa Milano a few years later… before getting married, of course –my wife’s likely to read this, you know?)

It’s funny how people usually think much higher of your potential than yourself, isn’t it?

We admire people and believe them capable of amazing things, and don’t realize there are some who have total faith in our own ability to achieve something that sometimes we don’t feel capable of doing. If only we always had the same confidence in ourselves as we put onto others…

Anyway, kids, the lesson here is: support everyone around you and help them realize their full potential. Chances are they’ll do the same for you. And by all means, try to have more confidence in yourselves!

Have a great week!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Next time you feel old, kick yourself in the butt!!

If there’s something that really, really bothers me, are people my own age acting as if they were old. I’m only 42, and I’m already surrounded by self-appointed pipe-smoking old men, cat ladies and old maids. What’s wrong with these people? I’ve never really felt old at my age (because I ain’t!)

Hugh Jackman (who’s less than 2 years my senior) in his first “The Wolverine” photos, became a wake-up call for me to shape up again (not to mention Daniel Craig’s physical condition in Skyfall- who’s also 2 years older than me).

I believe attitude is EVERYTHING! If you feel old at 40 (or 50, or 60, or… shall I continue?), man, you are really not getting it.

And to prove my point, here’s a list of people I truly admire for keeping active, current and with a positive attitude (there are a lot more, but these are the ones that truly stand out for me):

STAN LEE: I didn't meet either of my grandfathers. But damn, I wish one of them had been like Stan the man (as a matter of fact, I’ve already adopted him as my unofficial grandfather, he just doesn’t know it yet). The most important person in Marvel Comics’ history and co-creator of most of their greatest characters, he still keeps busy, loquacious and funny at 90 (he’s one of the co-creators of the Comikaze expo). Check him out here in one of his most recent “Stan’s rants” videos. He’s SO cool… ‘nuff said!

CASSANDRA PETERSON (aka Elvira, Mistress of the Dark): funny, smart, sexy entrepreneur (and she likes horror films!). I’ve been a fan of hers since I was a teen. She’s always kept busy and trim, has maintained her sassy attitude, is also co-creator of the aforementioned Comikaze, and looks spectacular at 61! That's her in costume at a premiere earlier this year... you just gotta love her!

CLINT EASTWOOD: Yes, you can say anything you want about Clint’s recent political escapades, but at 82 he’s still a commanding presence, great director and a man’s man (he was never the most emotional actor, but he just has to stand in front of the camera to fill up the screen).

SEAN CONNERY: same age as Clint Eastwood and, If you know me, you know he’s one of my life’s biggest role models: a truly self-made man, educated, politically active, no-nonsense attitude… he’s just the best. He decided to retire from acting a few years ago, but you can still catch glimpses of him laboriously supporting causes for his beloved Scotland and attending sporting events such as the tennis finals in NY.

So, next time you start feeling old, get off your butt and start doing SOMETHING, anything to keep you interested, busy and current. Because you aren’t old unless you believe you are. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

And my Number 1 Movie Ever is…

Working for the movie industry, many times I’ve been asked this question by different people. It usually gets me to re-think which one to choose above all others. And every time I come back to one conclusion, which for no specific reason feels embarrassingly clich├ęd (especially when talking to more serious movie connoisseurs like my professional film critic friends).

But here it is. My most favorite, number one movie ever is:

The Empire Strikes Back.

Yes, Chapter V in the Star Wars saga.

There, I’ve said it.

And the more I think about it, the more I realize there are plenty of reasons for that particular movie to have a special place in my heart.

It is not only because it came out in 1980, when I was at the impressionable age of 10, and not just because it was the follow-up to the original, commercially successful Star Wars phenomenon.

No, it actually has A LOT to offer as a movie, thinking about movies as the sheer escapist entertainment they should be.

And here are just seven of the many reasons that make this my favorite movie ever:

1.       It was exceptionally well crafted by its time. Visuals, special effects, sound effects… they were all so well done and presented, that you felt you were actually there. I loved the atmospheric feel ranging from the violent snowstorm from the opening scenes, the trip aboard the Millennium Falcon, the swamps of Dagobah, the furnace in Cloud City… the sounds, the images; they truly transported you to a galaxy far, far away. One simple scene that stands out for me is when the Falcon lands in Cloud City’s outdoors’ docking bay. The sunset, the breeze, the ship’s steam outlets… you actually feel like you’ve just landed from a long trip on a pleasant, otherworldly destination.

2.       Visuals you actually had never seen before. The battle on Hoth was amazing; the Snow Walkers’ design alone was astonishing; the weird snow steeds called Tauntauns; the asteroid field chase that by far technically surpassed the Death Star battle from the first one (and the surprise payoff when you realize the Falcon has hidden inside a giant space slug); discovering a powerful Jedi master in the form of a tiny, very old muppet (and having them pulling this off in such a way you actually thought it was believable); the climatic lightsaber duel…  This film offers one visual wonder after another, and they all feel organically part of a whole, which is not easy considering how different every scene is.

3.       The philosophical background is amazing and easy to grasp. The religious theology hinted at in Episode IV gets fully developed here, including a very good explanation about what “The Force” is, as well as some wonderful pearls of wisdom, like Yoda’s famous “Do or do not. There is no try”. It all made you actually wish you could become a real life Jedi.

4.       The drama. What is a good movie if it doesn’t have great drama? And in that sense, this movie is PACKED from start to finish: Luke Skywalker lost in a snowstorm while there’s an impending imperial attack and Han Solo risking his own life to save him; the exploding chemistry of the love-hate (but mostly love) relationship between Han and Leia (and you thinking “wait, wasn’t this Luke’s girl in the first movie?” -because you still didn’t know they were twins); Lando Calrissian’s betrayal (the scene where they find Darth Vader at the dining room was a real shocker, and you just loved Han’s no-nonsense attitude: hey, there’s the villain, just shoot him! It didn’t work, but he did the smart thing you actually wanted him to do); C-3PO gets blown to pieces; Han Solo gets frozen in carbonite; our hero gets his hand cut off and actually loses the final battle; and of course, the shocker of all shockers: Darth’s revelation to Luke: “I am your Father”. How cooler could this get?

5.       The dialogue. This film has a particularly great script with many wonderful, memorable lines. Just check out the quotes' page in IMDB and you’ll see what I mean.

6.       The great ending. Such a convoluted plot could not be easily resolved. And we would probably have hated and felt cheated if they had tried to do so.  There are a lot of loose ends in the end (one of the main characters is frozen in carbonite, for chrissakes!) but they manage to leave you with a sense of resolution AND still obviously wanting MORE!!

7.       The wonderful music. To me, this is John Williams’ finest overall score ever. This has some great memorable themes (including the Imperial March) and you don’t feel there are any fillers just to get some background music in there; every piece seems thought through and carefully composed for each scene. This is probably the soundtrack I’ve heard most times in my life and I still love putting it on the iPod once in a while.

I could go on and on, but I think this rests my case. Aside from being part of a very popular, commercial franchise, The Empire Strikes Back stands out as a GREAT, overall movie experience and for that it deserves its rightful place atop my favorite movies’ list;  the one movie with which I measure all other movies.

You probably have your favorite movie ever for completely different reasons.

But this is mine. So there!