Thursday, May 30, 2013

What's on the iPad? - Haunting Melissa

I think I maximized my viewing experience of the new app-based serial Haunting Melissa last night. I put in my ear plugs as I lay me down to sleep and I powered up the first installment. The lights were out, all else was quiet, and I was immersed.

The set up is generally familiar. We see things unfold through hand-held cameras and web chats.
The Melissa of the title is staying alone in a big, old house. There's a locked room, not sure what's in there. Voices and other strangeness abound, and Melissa and her friend begin to investigate. What could go wrong?

In spite of the familiarity, watched in total darkness, there were some eerie chills. I'm intrigued and waiting for installment two. That can be earned by a Facebook share, though I suppose future installments will come at a price. You wanna find out what happens, you must pay.

The project comes from New Edelstein, a producer on the The Ring and The Ring 2 and other projects, and it's well done. I think I will stick with it for a while.

I hope Part 2 arrives quickly. I want to see what happens next.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The 39 Steps as Improv

Improv techniques superimposed over the plot of John Buchan's 1915 spy novel made for great fun in the performance of The 39 Steps that Christine and I attended yesterday as part of the Orlando Fringe Festival. 

The trailer above gives as good a taste of what's in store as I could summarize, and it makes for an interesting blend of comedy and spy intrigue. 

Even before the show begins, performers in character collect random suggestions from the audience by way of surveys, secret messages dropped to "the man in the trench coat" and ideas written on chalk slates, the way a spy might scrawl a surreptitious detail. 

Those suggestions help direct the plot, which updates Buchan's pre-World War I story to the era of the Cuban missile crisis. Richard Hannay (or Rachel if needed) can be played by any one of the improve performers, based on a vote from the audience. 

It's all funny to be sure, but the core spy story and chase elements from the novel are  woven through the tale, and it all builds to Hannay in a desperate situation. 

I found it fresh and fun, and it was a good look at how genre gems can be given fresh life. 

The concept stems from Ryan Price of Orlando's Invisible Frisbee, and it's under the direction of Rebekah Lane. Check out the slide show of the production and more on their website

Saturday, May 18, 2013

It's Alive - by Loren D. Estleman

Somehow I missed the Valentino series from Loren D. Estleman until browsing the other day and hitting on the latest book, Alive!

Happy to be aboard.

Valentino is a film archivist for UCLA, and he becomes embroiled in murder mysteries that swirl around lost films. We're talking things like Eric Von Stronheim's Greed or, happily, the lost screen test of Bela Lugosi as the Frankenstein monster in Alive!

The screen test is real and really lost, cleared away to make storage space in a time before its importance and value were recognized at Universal Studios. But Estleman imagines a world where the footage still exists, two reels shot with Lugosi hot off the success of 1931's Dracula and targeted for a role in the next big Universal monster movie. Of course the role went to Boris Karloff, but collectors and film fans would love to see what might have been, or what went wrong.

Estleman offers up an interesting blend of film history and fiction as Valentino races to find the lost footage after he realizes it's at the core of an old friend's murder.

His pal, a washed up star with addiction issues,  has come upon the footage, but criminal elements are involved. There's also a collector who's an homage to the late great punster and editor Forrest Ackerman of Famous Monsters of Filmland.

Estleman's imagined a rich world of supporting characters for Valentino including an intern who's into Steampunk and a department secretary from hell plus a fun pair of San Diego detectives. They're fun for the reader, not so fun for Valentino. The bad cop of the duo is on bad cop overdrive.

There's a nice and fairly twisty mystery plot woven through the tale, and tension builds as Valentino strives to solve the case and keep the film footage from decaying in a police evidence room.

The tale's also a fabulous look into film preservation with even a few contemplations on Steampunk's importance. Van Helsing qualifies, and Valentino's intern and friends watch with the sound turned down for the enjoyment of the production design.

All in all, it's nice mystery read and great book to pick up if you're an aficionado of Universal Horrors.

Must check out the other tales in the series as well including a collection of short stories. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Watch Instantly Watch: Messages Deleted

It's not quite The Cabin in the Woods or Scream, but I recently ran across an interesting 2009 thriller with meta touches on Netflix.

Messages Deleted is from the pen of Larry Cohen, screenwriter for a host of memorable thrillers and B-movies including Q, Phone Booth, It's Alive and Captivity. 

stars Matthew Lillard, Shaggy in the Scooby Doo films and now pretty much the voice of Shaggy in Scooby animated films. He's Joel Brandt, a screenwriting instructor and struggling screenwriter.

Things start to go awry when he discovers a message on his home answering machine from a guy with a gun to his head.

Soon, Joel's embroiled in the investigation of a string of murders that mirror movie cliches.

Of course he becomes a suspect, and of course he has to begin to unravel a puzzle that seems to tie his past to an escalating series of murders.

It has a lot of elements we've seen before, but Lillard's always interesting, and he's helped along by Deborah Kara Unger as a detective on the case and Gina Holden as a student and ally.

The body count rises, Brandt grows frantic and with the help of his student, he realizes the events seem to be reflecting a screenplay written by a former student.

Death implements of variable sorts, movie coverage talk and other mayhem unfurl before the reveal.

It's not quite stupendous, but it's an interesting exercise especially if you're a bit of a film buff.

Monday, May 13, 2013

James Spader has a Blacklist

There aren't a lot of new dramas on NBC's fall lineup. While I'm reluctant to invest time in shows that might not last, I'm intrigued by The Blacklist. It's from Joe Carnahan who did The Grey and Smokin' Aces among other.

James Spader stars as a master criminal who has a list of really bad guys. He turns himself in to the FBI with an offer to help catch the evil doers.

He gets a Clarice Starling-like agent (Annet Mahendru) to work with, but it really appeals to me a little more than Hannibal has so far.

Here's hoping it has the legs for a good run,  the trailer looks pretty cool.

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