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Christmas Movies

Season’s Greetings Friends & Fans,
I hope you’re having a great stress-free holiday season. I know that despite my heavy work load all through these holidays that I certainly am.

On Christmas Eve I brought two DVDs to show my family. Both are terrific films. If you haven’t seen them, you’re in for a treat.

The first was the fairly obscure (on this side of The Pond, anyway) 1998 English film “Still Crazy”. One of the hardest (if not THE hardest) movies to make is a really good rock ‘n’ roll film. “This Is Spinal Tap” and “Take It or Leave It” are two; “Still Crazy” is another.

“Still Crazy” stars one of my favorite actors, the great Bill Nighy. My genre fans might know him as Viktor, the vampire king from “UnderWorld”. I think his finest work is in “Still Crazy”, “Love Actually” and, especially, “The Girl In the Cafe”. It also stars Stephen Rea (from “The Crying Game”), Timothy Spall (from “Secrets & Lies) and the ever brilliant Scottish actor/comedian Billy Connolly. Phil Daniels (from “Quadrophenia”) is also in the film.

The movie is about a sort of Deep Purplish/Pink Floydish 70s band named Strange Fruit reuniting a few decades later to play a Dutch rock festival. Billy Connolly, the band’s roadie, narrates. The Strange Fruit songs in the film (which are all solid pop rock material, no filler) were actually written by real rockers from The Clash, Whitesnake, Foreigner and Squeeze. I won’t give away any more of the plot except to say that the writer, director and actors really did their homework on this one. making one of the most authentic, hilarious and surprizingly touching rock ‘n’ roll movies ever.

If you’ve ever been in a band and are now in your 40s or 50s, don’t miss watching “Still Crazy”. You will painfully and hysterically relate.

“Still Crazy” was followed by its “kinda” sequel, “Love Actually”. I say “kinda” sequel because Bill Nighy sort of plays a continuation of his Strange Fruit character, the aging rocker/lead singer. Once again, he’s riotously funny and sweetly poignant.

“Love Actually” was written and directed by New Zealander Richard Curtis, whose films “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “The Girl In the Cafe” should also not be missed. The “Love Actually” cast is unbelievable. In addition to Bill Nighy you get to watch incredible performances by Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Laura Linney, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Keira Knightley and Rowan Atkinson. There’s also surprize cameos by Billy Bob Thornton, Claudia Schiffer, Denise Richards and Shannon Elizabeth!

I resisted seeing this film at first because its ads made it seem like a frothy Chick Flick. But I happened to catch the opening of the film on HBO. This opening (with it’s unexpected Twin Towers reference) took me by surprize with its depth and set me up for the great set of interwoven stories that followed.

I’m not an “American Idol” watcher or fan, but the Kelly Clarkson song, “The Trouble With Love Is”, is wonderful. “Love Actually” makes great use of all its music but nowhere better than in its use of Brian Wilson’s heavenly “God Only Knows”. “Love Actually” is a Christmas Valentine to the world and Love in all its varied forms. Don’t miss it!

Next Blog: New Year’s Advice from the guy who is sometimes described by his sons as a “geezer”.

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Capote and Kong

I saw “Capote” last night. This is turning into a pretty good year for movies — Capote, A History of Violence, the new Harry Potter movie, The Squid and the Whale….

“Capote” has a terrific script, much more mult-layered than I expected. Philip Seymour Hoffman, one of my very favorite actors working today, is at the peak of his powers in this film. I am in awe. See it!

BTW: Has anyone else noticed the dramatic similarity between my 1990 cover for King Kong #3 and the cover for the new book The World of Kong – A Natural History of Skull Island? Shame on them.

kong3a (39k image)

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Movies, Kong, Squid & Whale

Two days in a row, friends and fans!

Because I’m a WGA (Writers Guild of America) member, now is the time of the year I get to see free movies. The studios (in league with the theater owners) provide this service in the hopes that the different motion picture union members will nominate and vote for their films for the various awards that come out early next year (including the Academy Awards). I just flash my WGA card and my guest and I are allowed entry at any theater for any film even remotely in the running for an award. Because of all of the awards, this is also the time of year that most of the studios release (in Los Angeles, at least) most of what they consider their most important films.

That’s great because 1) I think movie ticket prices are outrageous; 2) I don’t really like to go to the movies (very few good ones, idiots in the audience talk, my anger and impatience with those idiots always holds the potential for violence, cell phones go off, the screens are a lot smaller now, etc.); and 3) my poor culturally-deprived wife (who loves going to the movies) finally gets me out of the house and finds out about what the rest of the world is talking about around their water coolers at work.

I used to LOVE going to the movies but that whole experience has really changed. I think a lot of the movie theater audiences think they’re still in their living room, watching TV. Or, they think that just because they bought a ticket they can behave in any manner they damn well please once they’re inside the theater. Another WGA bonus: If I’m willing to drive to the studios I can watch the films in a screening room. Great sound, great picture, the comfiest of seats — and no one talks!

So, I’ve been seeing a bunch of movies lately — unusual for me. I’ll use this blog to try to steer you to some good ones over the next month.

Last night I went to the midnight debut (all of my friends know that I’m a major King Kong nut; see my essay on Kong in the new paperback collection Kong Unbound) of Peter Jackson’s King Kong. It had some good stuff in it; I liked those nasty Spider Pit critters. It was fun, too, seeing my friends (and fellow Kong nuts) Bob and Cathy Burns in cameos.

The night before we saw The Squid and the Whale. This film is terrific: great original script, incredible performances (what a cast!). It’s a black, black comedy if you possess the same dark sense of humor that I have. Jeff Daniels is one of the most underrated actors in the biz — he has an unbelievably extraordinary range. He can hold his own in comedy with Jim Carrey (Dumb and Dumber), play a great goofy loser husband in Terms of Endearment and then turn around to deliver this dry, pinched, biting, pitch perfect Squid and the Whale performance. Wow!

Capote will probably be the next film I see. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is one of my very favorite actors. I invariably love his film role choices; they’re always off center and unpredictable.

Mural watch: I’m attempting to finish the first three of my San Diego murals today.

Hey — I gotta run (literally — three miles of hills every other day). See you in the blogosphere!


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Whoa! It’s been so long! I’ve been SO busy!

Mea Culpa! I haven’t blogged in ages! I’ve just been so busy! Here’s what’s been going on….

Filmfax magazine has been running a huge three part interview with Yours Truly. Some pick-up art (my cover for The Empire Strikes Back LP) was used for the first issue; the second issue’s cover was not by me (that issue is on the stands right now); but I painted a special Kong piece (I just replaced my Dragons image with this painting on the home page of my website) for the issue with the third installment of my interview (on sale soon!).

It’s free movie time for me (I’m a WGA — Writers Guild of America — member) so I’ve been seeing a lot of films. I can recommend Good Night and Good Luck as well as the new Harry Potter film (best of the four). I’ll be seeing a bunch more shortly…

Joss Whedon tipped me to Veronica Mars through an article in the Los Angeles Times. What a wonderful, well-written (and acted) show! And, WOW! is Kristin Bell the most talented young actress working today, or what?! If you haven’t seen any episodes, I recommend renting the first season on DVD and watching them in sequence. What a treat that was for me — I didn’t have to wait a week between shows — and no commercials!

The main project occupying nearly every waking moment of my time is my San Diego Natural History Museum mural commission. I’ve been hired to paint twelve murals depicting the prehistoric life of San Diego for a new permanent prehistoric hall opening in the summer of 2006. The largest of the twelve is 35 feet long, depicting a feeding frenzy of prehistoric whales and fish!

The John Carter of Mars film project has now bounced from Kerry (Sky Captain) Conran to Jon (Swingers, Elf, Zathura) Favreau. Jon and I had a great meeting — what a wonderful guy! Paramount initially agreed to my terms and then pulled a sudden 180! The Powers That Be at Paramount reversed themselves and decided that I couldn’t keep my original art (I’ve kept my originals on all of the 35 feature films with which I’ve been involved), nor — get this — could I ever reproduce my art for the film! So a future Art of William Stout book would have blank pages, I guess, to represent those years of my work. Sad….

Meanwhile I’m being courted for a film being directed by one of the most interesting directors in Hollywood: Christopher (Memento, Batman Begins) Nolan. The film is called The Prestige and stars Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman as two 1900 London magicians embroiled in a rivalry that descends them both into madness. The Prestige is one of the best screenplays I have ever read! Killer!

Okay; I’ve got to start working the phones to see if I can get into any advance screenings of King Kong. I’ve heard a really sad and pathetic tale as to why I wasn’t hired on that film — but I probably shouldn’t go public with it…