Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wierd Wednesday

 Today I want to give a shout out to one of my favorite cult films that just this week was released on DVD.  It was directed by Fred Dekker, who also directed The Monster Squad (a childhood favorite), and starred Tom Atkins who's been in everything from The Fog to Halloween III: Season of the Witch, to My Bloody Valentine 3D.  Its an amazing little film with throwbacks to 50s horror as well as affectionate send-ups of 1980s conventions, references to genre directors, and great B-movie special effects.  The movie is Night of the Creeps, released by Tri-Star Pictures in 1986.  Never heard of it you say?  I'm not surprised.  A light performer at the box office when it was first released and long forgotten on video (yet with rentals high) its one of the many 80s horror films that was easily trampled by the things released around it....I mean, how do you really survive as a sci-fi/comedy/horror film in the same year that Aliens is released?

So what is the movie even about?  Well, in the 1950s a spaceship floating over Earth accidentally releases a canister that falls to the ground on the same night that two college kids are parking on make-out hill...while an escaped ax murdering mental patient is on the loose no less.  The boy finds the canister and discovers it to be full of strange alien slugs that leap into his body while the girl is hacked up by the ax murderer.  Flash forward to 1986 on the same campus, and  rush week is in full swing.  Two boys who are trying to pull a fraternity prank, sneak into the morgue and find the 50s boy, frozen in a tube.  They accidentally thaw him and he begins to walk around like a zombie...releasing the little space slugs and spreading the zombie mayhem all over the campus.  Suddenly it is up to the boys, the sorority girl they just met, and a disillusioned cop to kill the alien scum.

If you're scratching your head and wondering how anyone could like a story so conveluted, don't worry.  This is definitely one of those stories that is much better to watch unfold than it is to hear described because so much happens in the tight 90 minutes.  I was actually surprised at how much I liked the film, given the plot description and I am so glad it is on DVD now.  Its one of those films that you know was made on a tight budget and yet looks so much pricier than it is, like Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street.  Filmmakers who can make the most from their money earn a special place in this movie lover's book.  Take a gander at the trailer below and check the movie out if you haven't yet seen it.  Happy hauntings boils and ghouls.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Halloween Week, Day 2: TooooOOOOHHHOOooooos Day

I drove to our local library yesterday and was awestruck at the sight of these fiery trees who's branches reached out and covered the street in a canopy of red and orange. I was rather sad when I saw it actually, because I knew the leaves would eventually fade and fall off but also because I didn't have a camera on me that could capture the image. I know, I know...I sound almost over dramatic on this subject and you could even call me sappy, but I sincerely feel that fall is lovely. It just makes me feel...warm inside (I say for lack of a better word) despite the chill in the air. I understood then why certain people choose to live in small towns rather than in cities, where there aren't as many trees.

Last night I revisited a new version of an old favorite. The film was Alien, but it was the director's cut.  I haven't watched the director's cut of the film since it was released to theaters in 2003 because I remembered being disappointed with it based on the pacing changes that Ridley Scott made in the editing and the awkward inclusion of the 'Cocoon Scene' at the end.  I decided to watch it again because I wanted to see if I still felt that way.  Turns out, I did.  I mean, I want to like the alternate cut because it includes several scenes that I wish had been left in, like the crew actually listening to the alien transmission and Lambert 'bitch-slapping' Ripley for leaving them outside with Kane.  I enjoy all of these additions, but some of the other exchanges between the crew and shots I liked have been shortened and in some cases, entirely deleted.  That upset me a bit, but the real thing that put me over the edge of dislike is the Cocoon Scene, which is a true disappointment because it was the one scene I really wanted to see back in the film.  It happens in the middle of Ripley's journey back to the shuttlecraft after she has set the ship for self-destruct and completely disrupts the pacing of the scene. I think that this is a mistake, because I remember reading the script and the novelization and noticing that the scene takes place before Ripley begins the self-destruct but after she finds Lambert and Parker, giving her even greater motivation to destroy the ship. Also, the editing of it removes most of Ripley's lines to Dallas leaving her to just stare and burn the place up out of rage.  The film is still good, its just not as good as the original.  I've included the director's cut trailer and the original trailer below.  Happy viewing!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Halloween Week Day 1: Murky Monday

Can I just say that I love Halloween?  I mean a lot of people say that they love Halloween, but I don't think those casual lovers really understand the fascination with the holiday.  For those people, Halloween is a chance to maybe dress up, maybe watch scary movies, and to maybe go to a party.  Its really all about maybes.  For me, it represents more than 50% of my happy childhood memories.  It represents time that was spent together as a family, watching Halloween specials on Nickelodeon and The Disney Channel (back when both were good channels), eating Halloween candy and enjoying the feeling of Fall.  The nights were colder, the leaves were changing and woodsmoke was in the air.  In a few months it would be Christmas, the thought alone was exciting in itself (I'll get more into Christmas talk as we edge closer to the month of December) and so Halloween always seemed like a 'gateway' holiday.  Sure, we didn't get off school for it, but it still was a little bit of fun before the holiday season truly began.  I can remember going as Freddy Krueger several years in a row and begging for candy up and down the street from our nice, suburban neighbors.  It was almost picturesque, and yet delightfully sinister.  Some drives were dark and obscured by trees and it took special courage to approach their thresholds to acquire the treats (I was never frightened because I knew those people were friendly and gave the best candy cause no one ever came there).  It is for these reasons that I decided to devote an entire week to Halloween in my blog.

This past weekend I made my modest tithe to the season by buying the last good pumpkin at Kroger and carving it into a classic jack o' lantern.  I'm rather proud of the result, as it is my first one in my own place.  I've carved pumpkins on my own before of course, but never in a place that belonged all to me so it felt very special.  I also bought a big bag of candy and dumped it in a bowl so that I could be ready for trick or treat on Wednesday.  I know most adults typically try to avoid handing out candy if they can, but I enjoy it very much.  I put scary movies on the television and make a huge show of how impressed I am with the kids' costumes when they reach my door.  In a way, it lets me continue to be involved in what I've clearly grown too large to enjoy.

This week, in my class at school, I am showing my students a ghostly classic...The Haunting.  I do mean the original 1963 version rather than the 1999 remake. I've always found this film to be quite chilling with its minimal effects and black and white mystique.  It may seem a bit dated, but lack of actual action tends to build more suspense, rather like the new Paranormal Activity.  Eleanor hearing the growling voice and seeing the face in the wall is one scene that nearly gave me nightmares...and did she really see it, or is she mad?  These are the constant questions involved in this fine film.  I should probably read Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, upon which it is based, but I haven't managed to get to it yet.  I will say that, although Hill House seems like a very frightening place, I wouldn't mind spending a weekend there for Halloween.  I always thought it would be fun to spend the night in a supposedly 'haunted' place (though I do know from experience that people who do that in fiction often get what's coming to them).  Enjoy the trailer for The Haunting below and, to quote Elvira, "Unpleasant dreams!"

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Tragic Reality of Blogging when Grown-Up

I've done it again.  I've started a blog and written several times within the first day or two of its genesis, and then I suddenly demote it from my list of priorities.  The blog then sits there, collecting dust, and fades into obscurity.  I know the Xanga people are probably wondering if I have died.  I think I need to force myself to keep writing on here, not only so I can keep discussing films that I love, but also to keep exercising my writing muscles.  I always wanted to be a writer (most high school English teachers did at some point, Stephen King actually made it happen) and I never want to lose the dream. 
A lot of people were inspired by Julie Powell and her success with the Julie/Julia project and began writing their own blogs in the hope that someone might notice or care about what they had to say.  I have no such aspirations here, mainly because I have no gimmick.  I'm just a lonely schoolteacher who sits at home spending most of his free time watching movies or TV shows...and I enjoy writing about it.  I suppose I'm just vain.  I'd like to think that someone out there might read this blog one day and chuckle to themselves because I said something witty...or maybe thinks to themselves that I must be one pretentious bastard to think that I can tell when I type something witty or not.
This weekend I did see a new movie, which happens to be the rage right now and finally was able to scare up enough hype to beat Saw (not that I have anything against Saw, I just think that maybe six movies is enough).  The film was Paranormal Activity and I found myself really enjoying the film.  It probably seems odd that someone who only mildly enjoyed The Blair Witch Project would really like a film with the exact same shooting concept, but then that misses the point of analysis and examination.  With Blair Witch I was unsettled by the actions and the uncertainty of what was out there, but got so ticked off with the central characters and their lines that it seriously affected my engagement in the picture.  They didn't really have lines, and clearly weren't the best at coming up with their own, so there was a lot of circular discussion and cursing that didn't go anyway.  With Paranormal Activity, the filmmakers were able to avoid this by not keeping the conversations with the characters too long and by giving them more 'dialoguey' things to say (I assume anyway).  Also, the scenes with the 'activity' in them were very well structured and had a nice build to them.  Every night something new gets added to what you see and it keeps you in suspense until the ending, which is the biggest and most in-your-face of the phenomenons.  That praise aside, I don't feel as though Paranormal Activity is the kind of movie that you really want to see twice...especially if the second time is on video.  It is an experience and should be shared in a dark theater with a lot of squealing people.  Also, after seeing it once you know what is going to some of the suspense is removed.  This may end up not being the case and the film may have a big following on video because it is very spooky.  It certainly leaves a lasting impression if it is successful in getting to you (I myself was rather annoyed at myself for going to see the film at night, knowing that I have a dark and empty home to come home to).
Oh, and for the record, I liked Cloverfield too.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

New Release Day

Today is a rather big new release day for DVDs as far as summer releases go, because today marks the release of Transformers: Rise of the Fallen.  Not a bad film in my opinion, just loud, big and over the top.  I was in the mood for something like that when I watched it and I'm sure others were too.  Paramount hopes to sell a lot of copies of it I'm sure.  I shall not be buying anything today, as I don't get paid for another week.  Frankly, I'm much more excited about the new edition of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles that is getting released.  I've always enjoyed that film and even get a bit misty eyed at the end.  It was tragic when John Hughes left us this year and I hope that his films will continue to get the recognition that they deserve.

There are several other films and TV shows being released today as well, such as Black Adder and a new edition of the complete Fawlty Towers but those make less of an impact on my mind despite their value to existence as we know it.  I think I'll be more excited next Tuesday when something that I pre-ordered is being released.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Movies No One is Supposed to Like

I don't know about you, viewers, but I love to love movies that critics and the majority of the public are supposed to hate.  People like to tell me that I have no taste because of this, but I think these people are missing the whole point of film and of art as a whole.  I've always felt that the point of enjoying art is to enjoy the things that make you feel something that you enjoy.   That is why they make certain films for certain audiences (aka, horror or action).  Also, it should be said that I don't simply like the maligned film for the sake of being on the outside (though I do get a special thrill from being in the minority...its almost as if I'm in my own little club of one and that I know a secret that no one else knows) but I tend to be able to view the hated film in a more positive light.  Maybe I'm just one of those people that the bad movie is made for.

The bad movie I am watching tonight is Sidney Lumet's musical flop The Wiz.  I've always enjoyed this film, ever since I was a child.  I enjoyed seeing the familiar Oz story transposed over an urban setting and populated with people who weren't white as wool, it showed me at a young age that everyone should have their own version of a story that they can relate to.  Granted, with the dated language and ethnic themes, it appears as if the film is very racist (a strange claim, since the film was made by African-Americans and financed by Motown records) but I see it as a time capsule of 70s fashion and sensibilities.  There are others who complain that the film isn't enough like the stage musical on which it is based...and they definitely have me there.  Musically, it resembles its predecessor and it follows almost the same story, but it was very much changed to utilize the urban setting (rather than starting in Kansas and becoming a magical wilderness with some urban sensibilities) and to shoehorn in its adult female star, Diana Ross.  I personally don't find it unbelievable that a grown up would need a journey of self-discovery as opposed to a child needing it, and I love the city setting as it shows how well the Oz story can stretch to meet any parameters.  Yes, there are some really dull and uninspired shots, and yes Diana Ross can grate on your nerves after a while, but I think the positives outweigh the negatives here (and I refer to the splendorous production design, the performances of Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, and Ted Ross, and the fabulous music).

Here's a trailer for anyone unfamiliar, or anyone who needs some nostalgia.  Happy viewing!

A Manic Monday

Today is a special day at the high school.  It is an inservice day, which means that the students are off and we, the faculty, are at school learning how to be better teachers.  It is a great idea, because it gives us work time and really does help us grow as educators (you don't want a dunce teaching your kids afterall) but at the same time, I wish I was home in bed still like the students.  I will say that my first seminar today on 21th Century Learning skills is very interesting, though not really going through things I haven't done before.  In fact, we are creating blogs right now.  You already know that I am a MASTER BLOGGER (imagine that spoken by Ian McKellen as if he were saying "YOU SHALL NOT PASS!!!")...and we also know that I love the parenthesis.  So I'm going to cover my first movie related post while all the other teachers are figuring out how peg A fits into hole B.

This weekend I saw a film that's trailer has haunted me since I first saw it on pay-per-view back in elementary school.  It is Adrian Lyne's Jacob's Ladder, which almost turned out to be as disturbing as I had always imagined the film would be.  For those of you unfamiliar, it tells the story of Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins) who is a Vietnam vet who appears to be seeing strange and frightening images around him as he attempts to go about his normal life and it all seems to be tied into a specific night in Vietnam during the war.  When he discovers that all of his old war buddies are seeing the same things, he begins to suspect conspiracy.  The trailer is attached below:

If you watched the trailer, you can see that the film promises to leave a lasting impression with you and I must say that it certainly did.  I was surprised at the disturbing images of screaming heads, eyeless faces, and strange slimy beasts that I saw and even more surprised by what I didn't see.  Much like the shower scene in Psycho, Lyne paces the shots and editing that you see so little, but just enough to where your mind can fill in the blanks with the horrors that it can imagine. It has been said that this film has inspired the video game Silent Hill as well as the visual style of several films (Event Horizon and In the Mouth of Madness come to mind) and I was very impressed with how it made me feel.  I almost dreaded every scene change and every new character that was introduced because I never knew when the story was going to swing into another vision of horror, which gives the viewer a real impression of what it must be like to have to live with horrific hallucinations and flashbacks.  That shows the artistry of the filmmaker more than any cheap 'jump scares' ever could (though I'm not against the 'jump scare', I'm sure I'd fill a horror movie with them if I was making one).  So I highly recommend Jacob's Ladder to anyone who enjoys a thriller that is just a little off and makes you think a little harder.  Be warned viewers, it is not for the squeamish.

An Introduction

Hello friends. I my name is Geoff. I am 25, average in every respect, and a high school teacher in my first year on the job. I am also a film addict. I own 800 DVDs (yes...that's not a typo) and the collection will start growing again once I have the cash to support the addiction again. I also Netflix regularly and go through about 4 discs a week. This may sound like a silly and frivolus reason to start a blog, and in fact many of my teacher friends wonder how I can plan lessons, grade, and yet still have time to watch all this stuff. But I know that all you movie lovers out there understand the call of the celluloid (and now digital) medium.

We can all remember when we were 5 years old and how that first memorable movie changed the way we looked at the world around us. Its always something classic and well known, like Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, or E.T. (is it odd that its almost always something by Lucas or Spielberg?). For me, it was Disney's Sleeping Beauty. I don't know why, but I watched that movie more than any other when I was growing up and it started my love of the process. I had never seen anything like it in animation and I still haven't (though The Sword in the Stone, another favorite of mine, tried to rip the style off a bit). I couldn't put my finger on the difference until I watched a making-of on the film and heard Walt himself describe the film as a moving illustration. That's exactly what it was for me at 5 years old, it was a story book come to life. It was also Sleeping Beauty that, later in my life, taught me to love widescreen and to shun all other forms of home video presentation (even before I started to shun VHS in favor of DVD).

So that is a little slice of what I'm all about, and I hope that this blog finds some interested 'movie crazy' folk out there who enjoy film as much as I do. I also hope that you'll forgive me in advance. I'm a rare breed of film enthusiest who prefers main-stream work to independant. That's not to say that no independant films have found their way into my heart, but I find a great many of them to be overrated and pompus. Its not a statement of fact or an assertion that I'm right and someone else is wrong, its just how I as an individual feel. I think it has to do with my inner child. He likes to be challanged and he likes things to be thought provoking (which independant films always do for him) but above all, he likes to be entertained and to have fun. The main-stream tends to do that a little more for him than the others. However, a lot of films in the main-stream started as independant, such as Halloween, so there's hope for this inner child yet.

Farewell readers, and happy viewing!