Monday, May 31, 2010

Rocking Weekend in Music City

Well, the weekend is coming to a close and I'm about to head into my last 4 days of work before summer.  All is well with the world and I am really loving the idea of those two and a half months, kicking it off with a wonderful weekend visiting my sister in Nashville, TN.  I drove down to Huntington, WV on Friday and rode with Mom the rest of the time to Gallatin (right outside of Nashville) where Miss J lives.  I haven't been to visit Miss J since she and Mr. J moved from Richmond, Va to Gallatin because they lived in a small apartment that wasn't exactly good for visitors.  But now they've rented a little condo and its big enough for all of us.  So onward we drove, getting lost only once thanks to Google directions, and we arrived at Miss J's home just after 10:30 pm central time (so my body thought it was 11:30).  Needless to say, Mom and I were pretty zonked.  We stayed up long enough to visit a bit and then we dropped off to bed.

Saturday was a day for Mom, me, and Miss J to visit and hangout so that Mr. J could have some alone time.  Miss J took us shopping, taking a short detour after a flying piece of plywood took off Miss J's drivers side mirror (I tell ya, it has been like everyone is trying to take out what ever car I'm in).  Miss J bought me some birthday clothes at Kohl's and gave me the Kohl's cash that came with it, which was very nice (and the outfits are really cute too).  Then we went over to a really cool and deserted movie theater to see Sex in the City 2 and enjoyed a highly frivolous laugh (though between you and me, the appeal of the series is starting to wear thin and if they make another one like they made this one, I may not be a fan anymore).  Following that, we went home and rested a while before going out into downtown Nashville, Miss J and Mr. J showing us the flood highlights and how high the water got here (thankfully, sis was unaffected).  I tell you, Music City is pretty awesome.  There were honky tonks as far as the eye could see, and plenty of great places I'd have loved to visit had I not been with my mother.  For example, there was a karaoke bar called Wanna B's and another bar called The Wild Beaver (oh, and there was a place in Printer's Alley, which is the red light district, that had nude karaoke...wrap your head around that one for a minute). It was a very fun night, and we ate at a restaurant called Rig River Grille and Brewery which was really good (I got some of their Sweet Magnolia Brown Ale and it was wonderful).  Following that, we took a drive around the city and the headed home.  A very good day for sure.

Sunday started with waffles and then we headed to a church that the kids have been going to over in Hendersonville which was pretty cool.  It was in an old style (but big) southern church and they had the most amazing choir (naturally).  It really made the experience enjoyable, and the lesson wasn't half bad either...but the thing I'll remember was the music.  Afterwards, we went to the Blue Moon BBQ to eat and it was fantastic.  It was almost a shame when all the great food was gone.  Following that, Mr. and Miss J drove us around looking at homes that they could both afford and not afford (we saw 4 million dollar houses that made us wish that one of us had won the lottery recently...cause that's the only way its ever gonna happen).  Then we came home and had dinner (a wonderful fried catfish and cheese garlic grits meal) and watched Up, because Mr. and Miss J hadn't seen it.  Miss J sobbed like a baby, it was amusing, but a good time was had by all.

Now its Monday, and I'm writing this as we prepare breakfast and pack up for our long drive home.  We've got 7 hours ahead of us before either mom or myself gets home (we'll part ways in Huntington).  I'm really looking forward to getting home and getting this work week started (cause its gonna go fast).  I really don't have a lot to do this week aside from grading, collecting books, and doing end of the year paperwork.  I have one regular school day tomorrow (that we suspect many kids will be skipping) and then three days of exams.  When I did exams in January, the week was so quick and easy.  I wager this one will be even better, because less students have to actually be there.  I only hope I don't get bored...though I doubt that.  I have plenty to do.  My biggest worry is that I won't get my grades in before the Report Card Lady leaves on Friday (because she doesn't have to work late) and I'll have to come in on Monday to finish up.  I hope not, but I will if I have to.  What's an extra half an hour anyway?   I'd much rather not have to go out on June 7th, because I've scheduled the delivery of my new HDTV that day...and I don't know when they're coming (if I miss them, I'm screwed).  Anyway, lots of stuff happening in the next week...and plenty of time for me to blog on movies.  So stay tuned friends, I'll be updating very very soon (if I survive the 7 hours home).

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Medley of Action

Ok, I was supposed to make this post last night...but I got sick and didn't feel like writing.  I got one of my gallbladder problems yesterday and spent the night in a chair watching "I Love Lucy" while invisible knives twisted in my gut.  I suppose it wasn't as bad as all that, but it was horribly uncomfortable.  I didn't sleep very well last night because of it...but amazingly enough, I didn't feel all that run down today (until it was 3pm and I was falling asleep in my chair at home...weird).  Now I'm watching Soapdish, which is a great early 90s comedy that you simply must see if you haven't already.  But tonight I'm not discussing comedy, I'm talking action.  Sweaty muscled, adrenaline pumping, bullets clattering to the floor action.  Its a fun genre, full of suspense, intrigue, and fun.  That's what its all about when you're looking for an entertaining time.  Today I'm gonna give an overview of three action films I watched last week and why I enjoy them.  Hopefully this will give us a nice prelude to summer.

This first film is one directed by the wonderful Joe Dante who also gave us some wonderful films called Gremlins and Matinee among others.  This film, however, gained notoriety due to its violent nature and its portrayal of children's toys.  The story featured action figures that used military surplus microchips to bring them to life, and the soldiers who were supposed to be the heroes then became villains in their quest to eradicate their enemies.  Its actually a fun story if you can get past the violence (which a lot of parents and critics could not).  There's some social commentary here, with the outsiders becoming the heroes and the soldiers being vilified (I mean, the military makes mistakes all the time)...and there's also a lampooning of how we make and market toys.  We package plastic violence and giggle to ourselves as the kids play soldiers and aliens...never wondering how that violence effects them...if it effects them.  We also don't think of how we're socializing kids to think in terms of 'good guys and bad guys' when the truth is much more in between.  I like this movie, and think you should go watch it.

Next up is the contemporary classic that launched Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock into stardom all because they chose to ride on that bad luck bus.  Yes friends, its Speed, and it really is as good as they say...even still.  I heard once that they had originally planned to have Reeves' character to be more like John McClaine from Die Hard...but its so good they had him be more down to earth...because the film is already too close to being Die Hard on a Bus as it is.  The plot is, a psychopathic bomber has attached a bomb to a bus that will explode if the bus goes below 50 miles per hour...this keeps the bus moving through the LA streets and ensures that there will be a lot of crashing, interpersonal drama, and cat and mouse between our hero and villain before the chase is through.  This really is simple filmmaking, and its what makes the movie so good.  Its so simple and yet offers up plenty of opportunities for good action set pieces.  There's a great elevator sequence, several scenes on the bus, and one great finale on the subway.  Its almost too much, and then it ends leaving us wanting more.  Perhaps that's why they made the sequel several years later, and why people were disappointed.  You can't capture lightning in a bottle, and you can't recreate the success of an original...which brings us to...

Yeah, I'm a completest...I often can't watch one film in a series without the other and so I moved on to Speed 2: Cruise Control.  Keanu Reeves elected to not return for the sequel (and I doubt he's too unhappy about it) and that left only Sandra Bullock to return as Annie, the wisecracking leading lady from the first along with new blood Jason Patric as her new (coincidentally enough) cop boyfriend.  They decide to take a cruise to boost the romance in their lives and find themselves on an out of control boat headed right into an oil tanker.  Yes, the concept of a cruise ship out of control isn't really as original as they think (we all saw The Posiedon Adventure) and many people thought it was ridiculous to call the film "Speed" when ships never appear to move that quickly (though in fact, even though they look slow sloshing over the waves, they move several times faster than most cars).  Another problem people had was the inclusion of so much humor in the story and rating the film PG-13 which took away a great deal of the edge that the original had.  However, this film still has quite a bit of good action in it if you can enjoy it on the stupid level rather than on a contemporary classic level.  Its a fun movie, which I suppose could be worse.





Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Summer Means Action Movies

So there's something about the Summer that really makes me want to watch high octane, macho, action/suspense films full of explosions and one-liners.  This past week I watched a grand total of 4 (5 if you count technicalities), and it just gets into your blood.  I love the rush of adrenaline, the pyrotechnics, and the enjoyable characters who we've seen in every other action film, but yet we forgive for being familiar because of our love of carnage.  Why am I saying all this?  Well, because I'll probably be discussing several films from this genre over the Summer...so if you hate action, you might want to tune me out till the Fall.  Don't go too far though, Summer also means Horror and Comedy to me...anything that entertains me and goes with popcorn.  Being a teacher, I have a lot of time off in the summer months...so I'll be blogging more and watching more films...especially since I'll have an awesome home theater set up in a few weeks.  I can't wait to tell you about it.  I'll be back in the evening with a look at one of the films I watched last week.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Hello Mary Lou....Goodbye Heart

Heading back into Prom territory after a week's hiatus, we see the ghostly side of Prom Horror.  Years after the first Prom Night took it upon itself to capitalize on the slasher craze, producer Peter Simpson decided to go back to the prom well for a sequel...however, it would be a sequel in name only.  It would seem that Prom Night's popularity didn't necessitate a reunion of the original surviving characters or a continuation of that killer's reign of terror, and with A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Exorcist, and Carrie becoming more popular due to supernatural plot elements...Simpson decided to make his sequel more supernatural.  So get ready to talk about Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II.

  It's 1957 and Mary Lou Maloney, the requisite wild girl and the easiest girl at Hamilton High, is a shoe in for prom queen.  However, when she jilts her date for another guy, her date decides to play a prank on her by dropping a stink bomb on her from above.  However, the prank goes horribly awry and Mary Lou ends up burning alive on stage.  30 years later, Vicki Carpenter...the nicest girl at Hamilton and also shoe in for Queen...begins having nightmares and hallucinations surrounding Mary Lou's death and, before long, she becomes possessed by the dead prom queen.  It seems that Mary Lou wants to get revenge on the people responsible for her death and plans to take the prom by storm.  You can be sure that by the end of this prom night, there will be a lot of bodies piled up on the dance floor.

If you haven't figured out, Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II is a quick and dirty mash up of Carrie and The Exorcist with a healthy dose of A Nightmare on Elm Street thrown in in the hallucination scenes.  Sure, it smacks of rip off...but its also a helluva lot more entertaining than the first Prom Night.  The fantasy element and the addition of a witty and charismatic villain really helps juice up what could have been a dull and lifeless rehash of the first.  Mary Lou was so popular that they brought her back for another sequel, Prom Night III: The Last Kiss, but it wasn't nearly as fun as this first outing.  Plus, the story has a very ghost story feel to it...it really sounds like a legend that would circulate around schools nowadays...the prom queen who burned to death and came back for revenge.  It's really perfect.  Some of the deaths are pretty fun here too, and are mostly school related.  Death by hanging from ceiling fan?  Check.  Death by locker?  Check.  Death by neon light?  Ok, that one's not so school related...but still, check.  This movie has taken everything that was fun from 80s supernatural horror and thrown it in a blender.  Now if only modern horror homages were this much fun.  If you can't stand corny effects laden horror, then this definitely isn't for you.  But if you want to sit back and have a fun and campy time...you could do a whole lot worse.

Friday, May 7, 2010

If You're Not Home by Midnight, You Won't Be Coming Home

In honor of the Prom season, I've decided to talk about some prom centered horror films.  Prom horror became popular with the film adaptation of Stephen King's Carrie and continued in popularity as the slasher film began to gain momentum in the multiplexes.  Holiday horror became a staple after Halloween and each year saw a new holiday or special occasion given the horror treatment from Friday the 13th to New Year's Evil...and the prom was a natural candidate for a horror setting.  You get a bunch of teenagers all in an enclosed space at night, somewhere where they can get separated, throw in a killer, and you have a movie.  Add to the mix Jamie Lee Curtis, who was hot stuff at the time in horror...and you have a sure fire hit.  It doesn't matter if the script is good or not...people will see it.  So lets dive right in and sample one from 1980...Prom Night.

Beginning several years in the past, the film shows four elementary age children playing a variation of hide and seek called "The Killer is Coming".  Three siblings pass by the abandoned building that the four kids play in, and one of them ventures inside.  When she intrudes on the game, they chase her and scare her.  It's all fun and games until she accidentally falls from a window and dies.  The kids then cover up the accident and allow a mentally challenged man to take the fall.  Several years pass and all the surviving kids are in high school...and its Prom Night.  Kim and her brother Alex are still mourning the death of their sister while Jude, Wendy, Nick, and Kelly have all tried to keep their secret.  But someone knows...and he is calling them with threats and stalking each of them.  He soon begins stabbing each of them with a shard of glass taken from a mirror...not unlike the shards of glass that killed little Robin.  The killer intends to get revenge on all the kids, and may hurt the innocent in the process.

Prom Night is a much better idea on paper than it is in execution.  You would think that a little who dunnit slasher set at the prom would be pretty good...however it is written with too many subplots and red herrings and it makes little sense aside from the main story which involves Curtis and her nubile friends.  The killer makes sense and if you don't see it coming a mile away, you haven't been paying attention.  I think the film would be more effective if the killer wasn't so obvious, if the red herrings had been reduced to one, and if they had left out the disco dance scene in the middle.  Its also poorly shot and edited.  It really looks like a TV movie in places...too clean and smooth moving to be film like.  I can't explain it otherwise.  Oh, and it borrows a planned King and Queen prank that would seem original if it wasn't coming 4 years off the heels of the more effective Carrie.  Still, Prom Night isn't as bad as some of the worst I've seen.  Its just one of those films that you know could have been better.  But hey, at least its got Leslie Nielsen in it.

Monday, May 3, 2010

A Little More about Life than Movies

Well, things certainly are interesting right now.  My soul is slowly being devoured by "Grease" and I feel like I barely have time to breathe.  I did a costume run this weekend, and I'm trying to get my publicity kids on the ball.  Also, it seems that everyone wants our auditorium during our production week...which makes it difficult to rehearse and build the set.  We open a week from Friday, and I'm rather proud of myself that I haven't yet started to freak out.  I think we'll be fine...well, I hope we're better than fine but right now we're sitting pretty at fine.  I expect that the kids will really pull it out by next weekend and we'll be great.  Hopefully everyone in the audience thinks so, you never know.  I've never directed a musical before and I'm finding it relatively easy...though much more choppy an experience than doing just a straight play.  You can't run everything all together until weeks into the production, which makes everyone very antsy.  We only started seeing coherency last week, and its looking more and more like a show.  My biggest fear is that we will be missing a costume or prop on show night and it will mess us up.  We've got good people though and no one wants us to fail...so we'll make it.

After that, we will be two weeks from the end of the school year and I can't believe how quickly this year has passed by.  I can't wait for summer, as I'm looking forward to some R and R as well as taking some theater related classes for my license renewal.  I get to spend part of the summer in Athens, which will be great as I still have some friends here, and I'll get to do some travelling.  But the big news is that right at the end of the school I get my new Home Theater set up!  I will be retiring my old CCT tube HD set (which has been slowly dying for about a year) and my old Onkyo audio reciever for a 50 inch 1080p plasma television (either a Sammy or a Panny (that's Samsung and Pannisonic for the uninitiated) and a fresh Onkyo 7.1 reciever with HDMI inputs.  Oh, and I'll have to get a fresh TV stand.  Its a lot of money to spend, but its so worth it to finally launch myself into the HD arena.  I've had a Blu-ray player since Christmas, when Dad got me a PS3...and I've been watching BD discs on standard definition equipment...do you realize what that does to a movie geek like myself?  It makes me feel....inadequate.  But that will soon end, and I will have a set up to make other buffs jealous.  Now, you're probably wondering....will he be getting 3D?  The answer is...yeah, eventually.  I figure in a few years it will be as common place as plasma TVs are now, just another feature if you will.  Right now, however it is not perfect.  Don't get me wrong, I think it looks cool...but its not a sale or no sale thing with me.  So yes, I'll be getting 3D eventually...when it becomes a more integrated and user friendly technology (its just too soon right now).  The only sad thing about my new set up is that I will only get to use it for a few weeks before I have to move to Athens...but Dad will have a similar set up so I'm not missing out too much.

Other than unbridled averace and fun times, there's nothing else filling up my summer and I kinda like it that way.  In the past I've always had to work during the summer and it often slipped away from me before I could really enjoy it so this time, I plan to enjoy my time.  I shouldn't be bored because of the course work, and I'll still get my teacher pay throughout the summer so there's no financial crisis and I won't need to do minimum wage work (no Cold Stone...yeah!).  I'm really genuinely excited and I hope it doesn't disappoint.  Well, time to get back to work.  I'll be back later.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Elm Street Week Day 8: The One That's a Remake

So, its finally happened...they've remade A Nightmare on Elm Street and they've recast Freddy Krueger.  You can imagine the public outcry over this in the horror and critical community.  Cries of "How dare they?" are still echoing through the air even now as the new film is number one at the box office.  Oh, if that worries you about the state of our culture's collective pop taste...don't be too concerned, horror films typically have a large drop off in the second weekend.  Plus, Iron Man 2 opens next weekend and frankly...nothing else has a chance.  But, what we really want to know is, is the film any good.  Have they done justice to the legacy of Freddy while also bringing something new to the table?  Well, settle in for a nap and find out while I discuss A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010).

The film opens in the Springwood, Diner.  A teenager named Dean is very sleep deprived and is trying to tell his friend Kris about the nightmares he is having.  Soon, he falls asleep and cuts his own throat with a steak knife.  After the funeral, Kris, her ex-boyfriend Jesse, Jesse's friend Quentin, and the school loner Nancy notice that they are all dreaming about the same man.  Kris tries to find out why she's having these dreams, and in doing so discovers that she shares a connection with Dean that she never knew.  They knew each other when they were small children.  Before she can get to the actual truth, she is killed in her sleep and Jesse is blamed for the crime.  Quentin and Nancy then join forces and begin to unravel the mystery that unites them.  It seems that when they were all 5, they attended preschool together and were pulled out following an incident with the school gardener, Freddy Krueger, who disappeared after he was accused of molestation.  Now it seems that all of the kids from that preschool class are all dying in their sleep and Nancy and Quentin are the last on the list of kids who got him killed...and they're beginning to get sleepy.

There are a lot of interesting things going on in this film, and a lot of bad things.  On one hand, its difficult to accept a new actor as Freddy Krueger after so many years with the same man.  This time, Krueger is played with a much less playful attitude than Robert Englund did, thanks to the contribution by actor Jackie Earle Haley.  Haley, best known for his role as Rorschach in last year's Watchmen, makes Krueger dark and unapologetic in his actions...but he also plays it as a man who has been wronged.  Englund's Krueger was always motivated by revenge...but he was continuing the work that he had started in life.  Haley's Krueger never murdered children before he was killed by the parents of the children, and is motivated by his wish to kill the kids for telling on him.  Is he mad because they lied about him, or is he mad that they told?  That is the question asked by the film...which adds a nice unexpected mystery twist to the film that we didn't have in the previous version.  Also commendable are the actors Kyle Gallner and Rooney Mara as Quentin and Nancy, the main protagonists.  Both actors are talented and bring a 'realness' to their roles.  You believe them, and that makes you like them.  In fact, these kids are onscreen more than Haley, so you need to like them.  Katie Cassidy is fine as Kris, as is Thomas Dekker as Jesse...but they are typical pretty actors and we tend to sympathize less for them on that basis (its a nasty psychological thing that we do and don't deny that you do it).  Speaking of pretty, Gallner and Mara are nice looking sure...but they look the most normal of all the leads of the cast and it makes the film seem more grounded in reality because of that (in the same way that Heather Langenkamp was nice looking, but not HOT in the original...she looked like a real girl that you'd see in the school hallway everyday).  As for the script, it retells the Elm Street story nicely and adds enough to it in order to make it fresh for those of us who have seen it before.  However, there are places where it follows the beats of the original too closely (reusing famous imagery and sometimes it doesn't always fit in organically with this version...like Kris in the bodybag).  Kris is obviously Tina and Jesse is Rod...and they get killed in the same order, which leaves no surprises in that arena.  It is nice that they make Kris the protagonist for a good chunk of the film, it makes it all the more jarring when she is finally killed.  However, in doing so...they miss the opportunity to develop Nancy more early on.  Which I guess is another testament to Mara's talent, because she makes Nancy likable and more than a 2D character without much first act development.  The dream sequences are decent too, though they do skip about in location a bit more than I'd like.  You never get the build of suspense in one area like you do in Craven's original.  The worst thing about the new movie is the overuse of jump scares.  They keep having Krueger jump out every two seconds to go boo, or have things run across the camera...and there's no suspense build up before hand so the 'boo' is wasted.  Its really sad, because if the scenes were drawn out a little longer and the 'boos' used a little less, it might be much more full of tension.  Also, some of Krueger's dialogue reads a bit rocky...it lacks wit and polish.  Haley manages to read it well, but it just feels clunky.  Thankfully though, the puns are kept to a minimum (the worst being a reuse of "How's this for a wet dream?") and that's good since this Krueger is not a jokester.  He's very serious...which is going to (and has) turn(ed) people off.  At the end of the day, this was an OK remake that I would watch again.  It has flaws that keeps it from meeting the greatness of the original, but it shouldn't need to be compared.  As a film, on its own merits, it succeeds on a level of entertainment.  Hopefully, if they do more Elm Streets after this one, they do less jump scares and more fascinating dream setups.  This concludes Elm Street Week and I hope you've enjoyed reading as much as I have writing about it.  Coming soon will be my look at Prom Horror, in the spirit of the season.  So be afraid, be very afraid.