Thursday, October 10, 2019

Top ten 'Amazing Stories' episodes



I did a brief overview of this criminally underappreciated series in honor of its 30th anniversary back in 2015, and had planned to do an episode by episode review of the series. But alas, I only made it in a few episodes in as other creative projects beckoned. But now that the second season is finally released on a region free DVD and the show is available steaming on Amazon, I’ve been re-binging the series. So here are my top ten episodes of this glorious piece of entertainment from the mid-80s. More in-depth, full reviews of individual episodes will be posted soon.

Also of note, an eternally “in the works” reboot of the show is underway from Apple TV. But I am keeping my expectations low. It does not appear that Spielberg is as directly involved as he was the original, and recapturing the Spielberg/Amblin 80s vibe can be an elusive task. But as Stranger Things and Bumblebee proved, it can be done. So we shall see.


“Dorothy and Ben”
Directed by Thomas Carter
Story by Steven Spielberg
Teleplay by  Michael De Guzman

This perfect gem of an episode is exactly how to best maximize the short dramatic format. Take a compelling high-concept idea, (in this case a man awakens from a forty-year coma and finds he can communicate with a young coma patient), and bring it to life with tight writing, spot on direction, and superb acting. Joe Senaca gives a haunting, deeply affecting performance as a modern day Rip Van Winkle. Director Thomas Carter tells the story economically, keeping the focus on what the story is about, namely Dorothy and Ben. Be warned, you may want to watch this episode alone. It is very emotional. The music by legendary French maestro Georges Delerue is gorgeous and adds to the overpowering bittersweet feel of this deeply moving masterwork.


“Without Diana”
Directed by Lesli Linka Glatter
Written by Mick Garris

The number two slot on my “Amazing Stories” all-time list goes to another tearjerker, also scored by the master of melancholy, Georges Delerue. Ten year-old Gennie James is wonderful as the title character with Billy Green Bush and Dianne Hull turning in strong work as her grieving parents. The directing by Lesli Linka Glatter is pitch perfect. She wisely gives us the emotional space to experience the catharsis we so desperately need during this emotional meatgrinder of an episode. If an Amazing Stories directing MVP award were given, it would go to Lesli. She directed three outstanding episodes, “Without Diana”, “No Day at the Beach”, and “One For The Books”. She went on to become one the most acclaimed directors in TV history helming everything from four episodes of the original “Twin Peaks” to twenty-three episodes of the current “Homeland”.


“The Amazing Falsworth”
Directed by Peter Hyams
Story by Steven Spielberg
Teleplay by Mick Garris

A relentless exercise in horrific atmosphere and tension, this moody masterpiece in suspense would have made for a great episode of “Night Gallery” or “Circle of Fear” back in the 70s. The lead performances by Gregory Hines and Richard Masur (from “One Day at a Time”) are Emmy worthy. And then there is the knockout direction and cinematography (both by Peter Hyams”) and the wickedly scary score by 70s horror music icon Billy Goldenberg. This is the best directed episode of the entire series, and considering the Hall of Fame roster of directors for this series, that is saying a lot.


“The Mission”
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Story by Steven Spielberg
Teleplay by Menno Meyjes

This knockout, special hour long episode, directed by the man himself, is most often the show associated with the series, since it was rebroadcast often in the 90s as part of the “Amazing Stories” movie package, especially on the SciFi Channel (as it was called back then). The production values and glorious cinematography are on par with anything you could have seen in a movie theater at the time. Spielberg relishes being immersed  deep into two of his favorite themes, WWII and flying, and the director makes the most of a terrific ensemble cast, including pre-stardom Kevin Costner and Kiefer Sutherland. The music by John Williams might just be the best score composed for a television episode—ever.

“Mummy Daddy”
Directed by William Dear
Story by Steven Spielberg
Teleplay by Earl Pomerantz

One of the great things about “Amazing Stories” is the diversity in the types of stories. In addition to straight horror, fantasy, and science fiction, the show did quite a bit of comedy episodes, and this one is the best (with “Family Dog” a close second). The premise is pure farcical slapstick. An actor, playing a mummy in a movie, hurriedly leaves the set in full wardrobe to make it to the birth of his child, and chaos ensues. Director William Dear shows the same knack for balancing laugh out loud physical humor with character, action, and heart that he displayed a year or so later in “Harry and the Hendersons”. Catchy early Danny Elfman score (composed along with his partner Steve Bartek).

“The Eternal Mind”
Directed by J. Michael Riva
Witten by Julie Moskowitz & Gary Stephens

Jeffery Jones plays a terminally ill scientist working on a project to upload his brain into a computer hard drive. While this may seem like a tired idea in 2019, this was pretty bold, heady stuff for 1985, especially on network television. While many of the “Amazing Stories” episodes have a “Twilight Zone” vibe to them, this one feels like an “Outer Limits”, and a very good one at that. Also, this is one of many episodes to be blatantly ripped off by Hollywood blockbusters in 90s and 2000s. In this case the culprit is the 2014 flop Johnny Depp movie “Transcendence”. It is literally the exact same story, and done infinitely better here.

"Go To the Head of the Class"
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Story by Mick Garris
Teleplay by Mick Garris & Tom McLoughlin and Bob Gale

Robert Zemeckis and Christopher Lloyd hot off of “Back to the Future” in a special hour long Halloween themed horror episode? Indeed, and it is glorious. While I’ve mentioned “Night Gallery”, “The Twilight Zone”, and “The Outer Limits” in reference to other episodes, this entertaining gem (with some added gore) could very well have been on HBO’s “Tales From the Crypt”, a series that Zemeckis executive produced and directed for.

"Life on Death Row"
Directed by Mick Garris
Story by Mick Garris
Teleplay by Rockne S. O'Bannon

A pre-Dirty Dancing Patrick Swayze exudes star charisma in an electrifying (literally) performance as a death row inmate with the power to heal. Stylish direction by Mick Garris and a knockout score by “Star Trek’ veteran composer Fred Steiner. Yes, this too was ripped off by Hollywood as “The Green Mile”, and this episode also predated Steven King’s source material for the movie by a few years.


 "The Doll"
Directed by Phil Joanou
Written by Richard Matheson

John Lithgow won an Emmy for his wonderful performance in this joyous, romantic jewel of a story from the pen of legendary writer Richard Matheson, a frequent Spielberg collaborator and one of Rod Serling’s go to writer’s on the original “Twilight Zone”. The direction by the talented (and very young at the time) Phil Joanou is beautifully understated.

"Family Dog"
Directed Brad Bird
Written by Brad Bird

Acclaimed director Brad Bird (“The Incredibles”) helped launch his career with this thoroughly engaging animated episode that was so good, it was spun off into a series of its own.

Runners up

Other outstanding episodes that didn’t make my top ten but are well worth seeking out include Martin Scorsese’s  creepy “Mirror, Mirror”, Paul Bartel’s “Gershwin’s Trunk” starring Bob Balaban, Spielberg’s “Ghost Train” (the lead off episode of the series when it premiered in fall of 1985), Clint Eastwood’s lovely “Vanessa in the Garden” starring Harvey Keitel and Sandra Locke, the charming “Mr. Magic” directed by Donald Petrie and starring Sid Caesar,  “Without Diana” director Lesli Linka Glatter’s “No Day at the Beach” starring Charlie Sheen,  the feel good “Moving Day” directed by Robert Stevens, Phil Joanou’s “Santa 85”,  and two wonderfully offbeat Joe Dante episodes, “Boo” starring  Dante regulars, sexy Wendy Shaal and fan fave Robert Picardo, and the goofy but oddly enjoyable Gremlins-esque “The Griebble”

Friday, August 23, 2019

Action, imagination, and heart: The best of James J. Caterino

I'm all about lists. I haven't done one on myself in a while, and have had a lot of new stuff come out since then. So, it's time for an update. 

If someone asks me which one of my books or stories I would recommend, of course, I would strongly insist they read all thirty-three published works. But if I had to pick just five, like if my life depended on it or something, then these would be my top five.





Watch the Skies

Both epic and inmate, this sprawling story spans several decades and tells the UFO story through the lives of three female characters, and the dramatic consequences of their close encounters, as their lives become changed forever.

Bottom line: If you have any interest in the UFO phenomenon, enjoy multi-generational stories, or are a fan of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", "E.T.", or "The X-Files", then you will absolutely love "Watch the Skies". 






Fireflies

The year is 1983 and something strange is going on in Cross Creek, Pennsylvania.After a devastating family tragedy, Emma moves across the country at the start of her freshman year of high school. Grief-stricken, isolated, and harassed by local bullies, she is feeling lost and lonely. One day, she takes a shortcut home from school through the woods and encounters a group of strange, otherworldly, flying orbs of light that she dubs “the fireflies”. 

She feels a deep connection to them as her interaction with the fireflies continues, bringing her new hope, wonder, startling insights, and horrific dangers beyond anything she could have imagined.

Bottom Line: If "Watch the Skies" is my "Close Encounters of the third Kind", then "Fireflies is my  E.T.".






Starfighter

Everyone has a favorite TV show. For Lieutenant Alex Bell that show was a short-lived action adventure space opera called “Among the Stars”. It was much more than just a television series to Alex. It offered her escape during her adolescence. It even inspired her to become a Navy fighter pilot. Then one day, the show became her real life.

Bottom line: Although this is a short story (technically a novelette at just under 20,000 words), it is available in a 55 page paperback, as well as on Kindle. If you like space opera TV shows such "Star Trek", "The Orville", "Battlestar Galactica", "Buck Rogers", etc, then you will love "Starfighter".







Caitlin Star: The Trilogy

Part animal. Part legend. All woman. 

Caitlin Star: The Trilogy, is a collection of the first three action-packed books in the controversial Caitlin Star series, collected in one volume for the first time ever. All three books are newly edited and contain brand new, never before read scenes. Also included is a ten page sketchbook of illustrations by the author, all exclusive to this special-edition collection.


Bottom line: Extending my Spielberg film analogy from above, this would be my "Indiana Jones" series. But a more accurate film franchise comparison might be "Planet of the Apes" (the 2011-2017 reboot). Or perhaps, this would be my "Game of Thrones."





Fantastic Stories

A girl from the year 2080 travels back in time to the present to save us from ourselves in the mind-blowing epic “Super 8 Images: A Time Travel Story”.

An illustrator at an ad agency creates a drawing of a woman taking a selfie for a smart phone ad campaign. Then he comes across a real-life, living version of the exact same woman in “The Selfie”, a romantic science fiction thriller.

Sixteen year-old babysitter Gina Zeneski takes the kids for a day at the amusement park and gets more than she bargained for in “Rollercoaster”, a pulse-pounding story of harrowing action.

A weekend road trip turns into a chamber of horrors for four college students in “The Rally”, a relentless tale of terror and suspense.

Carlos is the film critic for the Miami Herald. His life is all about the movies. But now, he is about to experience a cinematic plot twist that will change everything.

Read these page-turning tales of imagination and more in “Fantastic Stories”, a collection of science fiction, action-adventure, and suspense stories, in the tradition of anthology shows such as “The Twilight Zone”, “The Outer Limits”, “Amazing Stories”, and “Black Mirror”.


Bottom Line: Okay, I am kind of cheating here, because this is really eight picks in one. But that is exactly what makes this book so awesome. You get eight exciting, wildly entertaining stories in one slick, beautifully designed package.



Monday, August 19, 2019

Epic action of 'The Eco-Warrior' now available as part of 'Fantastic Stories'

The wickedly intense short story "The Eco-Warrior" is now available as part of the anthology "Fantastic Stories", and as a stand-alone story on Amazon Kindle.



Alycia is on the trip of a lifetime. She is deep in the rain forest of the Congo Basin, conducting field research for her doctoral thesis in Anthropology. She leads a team of fellow students and a professor. All is going well until they come across a murderous group of poachers who hold them at gunpoint, determined to torment the group of academics before leaving them for dead. Things get ugly and all appears lost, until, a mysterious bare-chested man appears, giving the poachers more than they bargained for.

They say he lost someone in one of the countless American mass shootings. They say he snapped, hoisted a NRA stooge Senator over his head, tossed him like a rag doll, and was sent to jail. They say he came to the Congo to escape humanity, and protect the last patch of paradise on Earth. They call him the Eco-Warrior.

John Kregar is, the Eco-Warrior.

A girl from the year 2080 travels back in time to the present to save us from ourselves in the mind-blowing epic “Super 8 Images: A Time Travel Story”.

An illustrator at an ad agency creates a drawing of a woman taking a selfie for a smart phone ad campaign. Then he comes across a real-life, living version of the exact same woman in “The Selfie”, a romantic science fiction thriller.

Sixteen year-old babysitter Gina Zeneski takes the kids for a day at the amusement park and gets more than she bargained for in “Rollercoaster”, a pulse-pounding story of harrowing action.

A weekend road trip turns into a chamber of horrors for four college students in “The Rally”, a relentless tale of terror and suspense.

Carlos is the film critic for the Miami Herald. His life is all about the movies. But now, he is about to experience a cinematic plot twist that will change everything.

Read these page-turning tales of imagination and more in “Fantastic Stories”, a collection of science fiction, action-adventure, and suspense stories, in the tradition of anthology shows such as “The Twilight Zone”, “The Outer Limits”, “Amazing Stories”, and “Black Mirror”.



Friday, August 16, 2019

'The Pledge' is a relentless action noir



Fueled by the ugly rhetoric of a new leader, the cold civil war in America escalates until it splits the nation into two separate countries. Champion sprinter and Olympic hopeful Jasmine Pulp is trapped on the wrong side of the dividing line. She must now utilize all of her physical skills and mental toughness to survive behind enemy lines, in hope of escaping this dystopian fascist nightmare, and reuniting with her family on the other side.

“The Pledge” is a harrowing piece of relentless action noir by James J. Caterino, the author of “Starfighter”, “Fireflies”, and “Fantastic Stories”.

Friday, July 19, 2019

'Starfighter: Through the Looking Glass', rousing space opera fun




I have a new story out, “Starfighter: Through the Looking Glass”, now available on Amazon Kindle and in paperback. “Starfighter" is a rousing, meta space opera adventure. If you are a fan of “The Orville”, “Star Trek”, “Battlestar Galactica”, “Buck Rogers”, “Lost in Space”, etc., then you will love “Starfighter”.

From the back cover:

Everyone has a favorite TV show. For Lieutenant Alex Bell that show was a short-lived action adventure space opera called “Among the Stars”. It was much more than just a television series to Alex. It offered her escape during her adolescence. It even inspired her to become a Navy fighter pilot. Then one day, the show became her real life.


“Starfighter” is an exhilarating joyride of bold, imaginative fiction from James J. Caterino, the author of “Fantastic Stories”, “Fireflies”, and “Watch the Skies”.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

'Fireflies', a moving, suspenseful story of the fantastic



The year is 1983 and something strange is going on in Cross Creek, Pennsylvania.After a devastating family tragedy, Emma moves across the country at the start of her freshman year of high school. Grief-stricken, isolated, and harassed by local bullies, she is feeling lost and lonely. One day, she takes a shortcut home from school through the woods and encounters a group of strange, otherworldly, flying orbs of light that she dubs “the fireflies”. She feels a deep connection to them as her interaction with the fireflies continues, bringing her new hope, wonder, startling insights, and horrific dangers beyond anything she could have imagined.

In the tradition of the films of Amblin Entertainment, “Fireflies” is a moving, suspenseful story of the fantastic from James J. Caterino, author of the acclaimed UFO epic “Watch the Skies”, “The Last Neanderthal”, and the “Caitlin Star” series.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Caterino Books and Art

Check out my new Esty shop, Caterino Books and Art.

Available right now: A personalized, signed copy of "Fantastic Stories" for $10, and a wide variety of pristine, 11x14 inch metallic prints of original artwork for only $15. All domestic orders (within the U.S.) ship for free!
























Tuesday, May 7, 2019

'Super 8 Images: A Time Travel Story', is part of the epic collection 'Fantastic Stories'





Now available as a stand-alone on Amazon Kindle and as part of the new anthology book, "Fantastic Stories".


Jenna lives in the year 2080. It is a dystopian nightmare; a world ravished by climate change and non-stop wars, an Earth on the verge of becoming a lifeless, barren rock with toxic air and acidic oceans. But there is hope as she finds a way to travel back into the past to 2019. Now she must try to change the course of history, create a new timeline, and save the planet.

“Super 8 Images” is a clever, thrilling, touching tale of time travel from James J. Caterino, the author of “Fireflies”, “Watch the Skies”, and the “The Last Neanderthal.”


Friday, April 26, 2019

Spring sketchbook: Captain Marvel, Bumblebee, architecture, femme fatales, and much more


Brie Larson is Captain Marvel.




Supermodel extraordinaire Elizabeth Turner.




Hailee Steinfeld as Charlie with Bumblebee.




Indy and company.





Cover art sketch for the short story, "The Dream Factory".





Femme fatale goddess. 


For more artwork check out my published sketchbook.





Saturday, April 20, 2019

'Fantastic Stories', epic collection of action-packed, page-turning, suspenseful short stories



A girl from the year 2080 travels back in time to the present to save us from ourselves in the mind-blowing epic “Super 8 Images: A Time Travel Story”.

An illustrator at an ad agency creates a drawing of a woman taking a selfie for a smart phone ad campaign. Then he comes across a real-life, living version of the exact same woman in “The Selfie”, a romantic science fiction thriller.

Sixteen year-old babysitter Gina Zeneski takes the kids for a day at the amusement park and gets more than she bargained for in “Rollercoaster”, a pulse-pounding story of harrowing action.

A weekend road trip turns into a chamber of horrors for four college students in “The Rally”, a relentless tale of terror and suspense.

Carlos is the film critic for the Miami Herald. His life is all about the movies. But now, he is about to experience a cinematic plot twist that will change everything.

Read these page-turning tales of imagination and more in “Fantastic Stories”, a collection of science fiction, action-adventure, and suspense stories, in the tradition of anthology shows such as “The Twilight Zone”, “The Outer Limits”, “Amazing Stories”, and “Black Mirror”.




Tuesday, April 16, 2019

'Fantastic Stories', bold, imaginative, addictive


I have a new book out, “Fantastic Stories”.

This is the anthology I have been dreaming about all my life; eight rip-roaring tales of epic imagination that pack a physical punch and an emotional wallop. If you like stuff like “The Twilight Zone”, “The Outer Limits”, “Amazing Stories” and “Black Mirror”, then you will love “Fantastic Stories”.

Now available on Amazon Kindle and in Paperback.





A girl from the year 2080 travels back in time to the present to save us from ourselves in the mind-blowing epic “Super 8 Images: A Time Travel Story”.

An illustrator at an ad agency creates a drawing of a woman taking a selfie for a smart phone ad campaign. Then he comes across a real-life, living version of the exact same woman in “The Selfie”, a romantic science fiction thriller.

Sixteen year-old babysitter Gina Zeneski takes the kids for a day at the amusement park and gets more than she bargained for in “Rollercoaster”, a pulse-pounding story of harrowing action.

A weekend road trip turns into a chamber of horrors for four college students in “The Rally”, a relentless tale of terror and suspense.

Carlos is the film critic for the Miami Herald. His life is all about the movies. But now, he is about to experience a cinematic plot twist that will change everything.

Read these page-turning tales of imagination and more in “Fantastic Stories”, a collection of science fiction, action-adventure, and suspense stories, in the tradition of anthology shows such as “The Twilight Zone”, “The Outer Limits”, “Amazing Stories”, and “Black Mirror”.




Monday, April 15, 2019

Caterino on Caterino


All writers of fiction have a split personality. After all, they spent most of the time absorbed in worlds of their own creation populated with made-up people who are as real to them as flesh and blood. So it makes perfect sense that the best way to gain insight into the deep psyche (and psychosis) of a creative writer is the self-interview.


So tell me, why do you write?

I write stories I want to read, but nobody else had written them. So I have to write them.

When did you start writing fiction?

I believe the first completely finished, edited, and typed up short story I wrote was at the age of 12 for a project at school. It was this really hilarious over the top space opera inspired by "Star Trek", "Space 1999", etc. It was called “Among theStars” and I turned it into a published screenplay a few years back.




Did you stick with the writing after that initial story at 12?

In one form or another. Always filling out notebooks with story outlines, characters, and key scenes I would use later on. Wrote about a dozen or so short stories in college. Then it was on to screenplays.

Were any of them good?

Mostly no. Well-crafted maybe—structure always came natural to me—but vapid. I simply had not lived enough life. A couple of the short stories were well-received by the class. It was one of those classes where you had to sit silent for an hour while everyone discussed and reviewed your work out loud. One of the screenplays was good. It actually came close to being optioned. I went out to LA and pitched it around back in 2003. By that time I had developed a true sense of who I was as an artist with my own viewpoint, personal set of thematic obsessions, and demons. It was an S&M supernatural horror story about re-incarnation called “Steel Phantom”. Much of the material ended up being used in “She” and “All About Amy”.



The most praised aspect of your writing are the action sequences, especially those in the “Caitlin Star” series? Tell me about Caitlin.

I wrote a novel back in early 2000s about a charismatic anti-hero vigilante named Gunner Star. Think Vin Diesel, circa 2000 – 2004, ala “Pitch Black”, the original “Fast and Furious”, and “The Chronicles of Riddick”. He discovers this philosophy based on an extinct species of hominids called the Bull Mongoni, and teaches this to a series of protégés, including a young, orphaned girl named Caitlin. She is clearly special from the start and becomes his prize pupil and a great leader in her own right. “CaitlinStar the Trilogy” follows her growth and the historic role she plays in a series of great civil wars and in the post-apocalyptic world that follows.



Even though the “Caitlin Star books” have a hard edge to them, there is a great sense of wonder about them. Something you really seemed to explore in your next three books, “The Last Neanderthal”, “Watch the Skies”, and “Fireflies”.

I call those books my “Amblin Entertainment Trilogy”, because all three stories are inspired by Spielberg films and productions, combined with my own adolescence and personal sensibilities.



Those three novels all have a lot of heart and were quite emotional at times.

I certainly felt those emotions while writing them. I really wanted to hone in on creating humanistic, character-driven stories with those books.

Lately you seem to have been really focused on short stories and I understand you have a new book coming out that will be a collection of some of those.

Yes. It’s called “Fantastic Stories” and will collect eight stories I have written over the past two years and will include the original cover art for each story. I am very excited about this because I grew up reading “Galaxy”, “The Twilight Zone Magazine”, and many others from the tail end of the pulp era. I love short stories and feel like it has become a lost art form. Although by the old technical definition most of my stories would be considered novelettes since they are between 7500 and 20,000 words, although that term really isn’t used anymore.



What can readers expect from “Fantastic Stories”? What kind of stories will be in there?

Science fiction, action adventure, romance, and suspense that borders on horror. Let me put it to you this way; if you like “The Twilight Zone”, or “The Outer Limits, or “Amazing Stories”, or “Black Mirror”, then I promise you will love “Fantastic Stories”.

You are speaking my language for sure. I can’t wait to pick that up. Jim, thank you so much for taking out the time to speak with us.

My pleasure.