Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On...

In the early 90s, Universal had a slew of projects that were released to moderately good reviews but low box office success.  Later, when the films hit video, they would make a killing in rentals and tape sales (that was what we watched before DVD and Bluray to you younguns...we even had Laserdiscs) because the films were quality crowd-pleasers, well made and unfortunately victims of bad advertising (explaining why no one showed up when they were in the theaters).  This group of under-appreciated gems included such fan favorites as Sneakers and Heart and Souls, as well as 'the little monster movie that could'.  It has spawned 3 sequels and several imitators, itself an imitation of the monster movies from the 1950s, and has given the film world several memorable leading characters.  Lets examine where this franchise began and dig into Tremors.

Perfection, Nevada is a small town in the middle of a desert valley and has a maximum population of 11 people.  Its fairly removed from the outside world and that's the way it's residents like it...all except for Valentine McKee and Earl Bassett who are tired of being the town's go-to men for every menial chore.  They decide one day to finally make their break and go to Bixby, the nearest town.  However on their way out of town they find one of the residents dead on an electrical tower.  They first think he's had a heart attack, but then find that he died of dehydration...meaning that he had to be up there for at least 4 days.  Soon more people are ending up dead and Val and Earl, along with the rest of the residents, discover that the culprit behind the deaths are giant, subterranean worms.  They're fast, smart, and quickly turning Perfection Valley into a smorgasbord.  The road is out and the phone lines are down, and their only hope is to head toward solid rock, the mountains that boarder the valley, as the worms can only pass through dirt.  Will they make it, or will they succumb to the worms' never ending hunger for human flesh?

Tremors is a wonderful example of a monster movie.  It takes place in an isolated area (in fact, many of them took place in the desert) with a few colorful characters and, most importantly, has a huge beastie that's hard to kill.  Writers Brent Maddock and S.S. Wilson, hot off their success with Short Circuit, took their original idea Land Shark, about underground creatures, and turned it into a sleeper phenomenon that people truly enjoyed...once they took the time to actually see it.  Part of what makes the film so endearing its its sense of humor and well differentiated characters.  Val and Earl (played by Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward) are a wonderfully witty and down-to-earth duo who carry the film effortlessly by playing off one another in a 'buddy cop movie' kinda way. Also perfect are Victor Wong as Walter, the general store proprietor, Michael Gross as Burt Gummer, the local survivalist and gun nut, and Reba McEntire as his wife Heather.  Also of note is Finn Carter as Rhonda, the graduate student who is studying geology in the valley.  Carter hasn't been seen in much since then and its a real shame as she is a real beauty and has great comic and dramatic timing in the film.  She is still working, but not in any mainstream films and sometimes appears on television.  I only hope she gets to be seen in a big film again sometime.  If you're one of the 20 or so people that hasn't seen Tremors yet, its definitely a lot of fun and worth your time.  Its perfect for a summer adventure.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

About to move...

Well friends, its finally come to it...I'm moving out of my place for 5 weeks to go to Athens and take some courses.  It should be fun, and yes I'll be driving home often to check on my place so no need to worry about me and my things.  The folks who run the apartments are checking in on the place while I'm away as well, so everything should be right as rain.  While I'm away I'm hoping to find Athens well and populated with at least a few friends of mine so that I'm not bored.  Of course, I shouldn't wish for no I will have to do work for class and I don't relish having a lot of homework.  I've got a lot to figure out while I'm there too, like what kind of program I'm going to complete to get my full Theater certification and where I'm gonna go to do it.  I also need to get to the amusement parks (but I'm filing that under 'frivolity').  I feel like I've been so busy this week, I don't feel like I did anything last week and this week I feel like I've been running around all over the place.  I guess that's not a bad thing, but it certainly has made me very aware of how quickly this summer break is gonna slip away.  I'm so glad that I've had several days to play with my new electronic toys though, but now I have to leave them behind for weeks and weeks...oy.

On the film side of things, the Summer Movie season is in full swing and the cinemas are packed with Summer Blockbusters.  I've gone to the flicks three times this week and each time its been difficult choosing what I wanted to see.  First I saw Killers with Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl.  I never go out of my way to see anything with Kutcher in it...not because I hate him or anything...he just is never in anything I particularly want to see.  Heigl on the other hand I enjoy, but she seems to have fallen into that typecasting curse that befell Meg Ryan following When Harry Met Sally.  She seems to always be in some ridiculous romantic comedy where she plays the cute, yet uptight lead who needs to learn to either open up, learn to have fun, or learn some other 'quit being OCD' kind of lesson.  Killers proved to be no different, although it was nice to see Tom Selleck in a movie again (as her stern and somewhat creepy father).  There were some fun action sequences though, and I feel as though the movie could have been a little darker and more witty (it skirts around spoofing modern suburbia but never quite sinks its teeth in)....C+

Next I saw The A-Team, which as most of you know is based on the cult-favorite TV series by the same name.  I can't say I've ever seen the original show, so that probably helped when I watched the film...because I had a lot of fun.  Several critics and fans have stated that the film doesn't accurately capture the essence of the show and that it instead is more generically action based.  Personally, I had a great time and loved all the performers (aside from Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson as B.A. (the role that made Mr. T famous) who comes off as a little flat).  My favorites of course was Liam Neeson as team-leader Hannibal, who chews the scenery with gutsy gusto and Bradley Cooper as Faceman, his #1.  Some of the editing gets a little on the frenetic side and makes discerning what's supposed to be going on kinda difficult (but its not as bad as in the Bourne movies or in Quantum of Solace).  The plot also gets a bit ridiculous at times, but what can you expect?  As I understand it, the show was like a comic version of "Mission Impossible" with the plans bordering on the when the boys try to fly a tank using a parachute and the main gun, you feel like they've really captured the tone of what people remember about the show.  Remember though, that having never seen it, I could be wrong.  Either way, I enjoyed it and would greatly welcome a sequel....B

The last, and I think best, new release that I took in this week was The Karate Kid...a remake of the 1980s classic that starred Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita.  It is always difficult to remake anything, especially something that has such a classic status, but when you do it well it always shows.  I am a fan of the original and I was nervous about this new version...especially since this one starred Jaden Smith and was produced by his loving parents (I'm sure you've heard of them...Will and Jada?) and to me it looked like a vehicle geared to promote mommy and daddy's little angel.  However, I and all the other critics need to get over ourselves and admit that, promoting aside, the kid can act and has a future.  In fact he does a very nice job filling in the role of Dre Parker (aka Daniel Larusso when it was 1984) and makes the part his own.  Jackie Chan also shines in the dramatic role of Mr. Han (aka Mr. Miyagi) and gives one of his best performances to date...not mugging for the camera like he usually does, but actually bringing a tenderness and sorrow to the part that feels real.  There was one point in the film where I actually teared up, when Mr. Han opens up and reveals past secrets to Dre, and by the end I was reacting with gasps and whoops as Dre fights to win the tournament.  It followed the blueprint of the 1984 story but also added its own embellishments that allow it to stand apart.  If you already know the story then you know how its all going to turn out and what things need to happen, but the rearrangement of the details and the energy in which the film moves keeps you wanting to see what will happen next.  I hope they make another one, but this film works well as a standalone feature...just like the original did...A

Monday, June 14, 2010

Weekend Roundup

Well the 80s party was a success. We watched a lot of fun movies, listened to music that made us dance, and made fun of just about everything that came on screen until we got too tired to make jokes.  Oh, and Nick had TWO slices of DQ cake...who knew?  I've still got three slices left, and one is calling my name already.  Oh, and I've got a bowlful of kettle chips left over too.  If there's one thing I always do, it's that I always buy too much food.  As for our marathon, we got through 4 movies between Saturday night and Sunday morning (as well as one episode of "Inspector Gadget") and I'm sure you're dying to know what we managed to get through.  Here we go!

To start, we popped in one which was a favorite of us all and which brought back fond memories of our childhoods, Adventures in Babysitting.  Aside from being amazed that all of us seemed to see this for the first time while we were being babysat, we also remarked on how well made the film was.  From the acting, to the writing, to the soundtrack everything about this movie works.  For those of you who don't know the goes something like this:  Chris Parker is a17 year old who has just been stood up by her steady boyfriend, and so she ends up babysitting for Brad and Sara Anderson.  It proves to be a boring night until her friend Brenda calls and needs to be rescued from the downtown Chicago bus station.  What at first seems like a routine trip turns into a crazy adventure as they find themselves with a flat tire and are soon drawn into several action packed situations that get worse and worse.  The film is both hilarious and exciting and takes itself completely seriously (for the most part) and that is what makes it seem believable, despite some of the very unbelievable things that happen.  There are certainly dated elements, but those can be overlook for the sheer fun factor.  Definitely a classic.
The next film up on our list was The Monster Squad, a film that can best be described as The Goonies but with the Universal Monsters thrown in.  Of course, the Squad has more going for it than that but that is the easiest way to describe it.  The original plan for this party was to watch something from every genre, and this was my way of doing 'horror' without getting too gory for my squeamish and 'not-that-into-horror' guests.  The plot goes as such: Back in the day, Dr. Abraham Van Helsing tried to wipe Dracula and his minions off the planet using a sacred amulet that opens a gateway to limbo.  However, their plan backfired.  Jumping forward to 1987, we find Sean and his friends Patrick, Rudy, Eugene, and Horace (aka Fat Kid) who have started a Monster Club because of their love of horror films.  Sean is given the diary of Van Helsing by his mother, who got it at a yard sale, and he takes it to Scary German Guy (his German neighbor) to translate it.  Little does he know that Dracula (along with the Wolfman, Frankenstein's Monster, The Mummy, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon) is in town and wants to get the diary back to keep anyone from reciting the passage within that will open the amulet.  Soon the kids are pitted against the monsters in a race to save the world.  Will they succeed?  Does Wolfman have nards?  This movie is great because it features foul mouthed kids and lots of gruesome (but unoffensive) horror to enjoy at the PG-13 level.  Its not the best film in the world and is full of cliche and predictable moments, but overall it presents a very entertaining tale full of likable characters and great dialogue.  If you haven't seen it, you should.

Next up was a film that I described as concentrated 80s because when you watch it, its like eating frozen OJ without adding water.  Its too sweet, it makes you sick, but damn if it doesn't feel good while you're doing it.  Earth Girls Are Easy is memorable not only because its one of the few 80s sci-fi musical comedies but also because it was written by and features Miss Downtown Julie Brown herself...MTVs own Miss 80s.  That alone makes this one worth watching, but if you're still unsure, let this plot summary help you: Valarie, a valley girl who works at the Curl Up and Dye beauty salon, dumps her cheating boyfriend on the eve of their wedding and decides to take a topless sunbathe next to her pool...which distracts a UFO that is flying by the vicintiy.  Soon she is bringing the horny space visitors into her home (played by then unknown Damon Wayans and Jim Carrey and sexy stud Jeff Goldblum) and trying to get them to fit in with Earth culture.  Along the way, there are car chases, sex jokes, dream sequences, and more 80s musical numbers than you can shake a stick at.  If this movie sounds completely ridiculous and stupid, that's because it is.  But thats part of the joke, the film (like Brown's MTV segments) completely spoofs the excess and frivolity of late 1980s culture in L.A with its overabundance of hot pink, neon, and crazy fashion.  Its definitely worth seeing once, unless goofy comedies don't do anything for you.  Oh, and the soundtrack is great too...especially the title song, "Cause I'm a Blonde", and "I Like Em Big and Stupid".

And of course, no 80s movie marathon would be complete without at least one John Hughes movie.  Lets face it, the man completely defined what a high school movie is and has been since the 1980s starting with his enduring classic, The Breakfast Club.  However, before the Club there was Sixteen Candles which was much less serious but still showcased his wit and talent for capturing the essence of teenage life, embarrassment, and love.  In Sixteen Candles, it is the day before Samantha Baker's sister's wedding and her whole family is in town for the occasion.  The house is a crazed powder keg waiting to explode, and with all the commotion everyone in her family has forgotten that it is Samantha's sixteenth birthday.  To make matters worse, she is being hit on by the school geek and the boy she really likes, Jake Ryan, doesn't seem to know she exists.  However, by the end of this crazy day, Samantha's life may be more changed than she thinks.  This film is classic Hughes.  We have the seemingly impossible and almost 'fairy tale-like' romance, the strange side characters and situations, and the biting wit that came with all of his films.  It easily ranks among his most popular films, up there with The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, and Uncle Buck (and still several others).  The film doesn't just resonate as an 80s film, given its enduring status as a teenage classic today.  Hughes had a way with teenage stories that manages to be universal and timeless no matter when you see it.

I hope you guys enjoyed this quadruple whammy and I hope you seek these films out if you haven't seen them yet.  I'll be back with you soon with more of my own ramblings and musings.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Taking a trip back in time about 25 years

Today is going to be a fun day.  Why you ask?  Because me and some friends are getting together this evening and having our Big 80s Slumber Party (if it sounds a little gay, that's because it is).  We're gonna eat junk food, listen to Madonna, and watch 80s movies all while decked out on sleeping bags in the middle of the floor.  I'm sure there will be some playing of classic games like Mall Madness as well.  Its not very grown-up, but then none of us were at that time.  I even got a DQ cake (cause I remember those being all the rage in town in the 80s....or maybe it was just at our all runs together for me).  I dunno how some people would look at reverting to childhood for a night, but I think its healthy and fun...and way better than just getting wasted in a bar.  Of course, we'll probably be drinking never mind that comparison.  So, since this is mainly a movie blog and I said we'd be watching 80s movies so I'm sure you're wanting to know what movies we'll be watching...and I'm sad to say that I have no idea really.  We had originally decided to do one thing from every genre, but I dunno how long us old fogies will last tonight.  We've had a request for Adventures in Babysitting and I personally want to watch The Monster Squad....and it took me two minutes to type that because the italics function on Blogger is acting screwy today.  Every time I clicked italics and started typing, it had the second title suddenly appear next to the first title...weirdness.  I ended up having to type it and then physically move it to the end of the sentence where it belonged.  I know it doesn't sound like more than a minor annoyance...but I hate when my typing is interrupted by technological glitches.  Anyway, tomorrow I will update the blog with the titles watched.  Hopefully its a good and diverse list.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Offensive Comedy and Blowing Shit Up

Well, I'm back...and its only been a few day delay.  You'll excuse my laxness in getting this newest post out on the net, but I've been very very lazy this week and I haven't been watching a lot of action lately...I've been more into watching comedy and horror, so after today I'm gonna go back to writing about whatever strikes my fancy.  I think writing towards a theme is nice for a week, especially when you're dealing with a series or something, but I'd much rather just go wherever my mind takes me.  That said, I still like to keep a certain amount of regulation about my posts.  I never write about anything I haven't recently watched, or about things that haven't really happened.  I mean, I could write about daydreams I have and fantasies I entertain...but that's a little more than I want to put on the internet.  After all, my mother reads I need to keep it clean (I think she's gonna get a kick out of that by the way).  Anyway, today I'm going to talk about something I just saw for the first time and I've been meaning to see since its release in 2008.  It looked completely irreverent and exciting, and had some actors involved that I really like.  So yesterday, I picked it up from the library and gave it a spin.  Truly, I wish I had picked it up earlier and I'm actually feeling like owning it.  So, lets not beat around the bush any longer...lets dive right into Tropic Thunder.

The film opens with three fake trailers to advertise fictional films featuring the characters played by Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., and Jack Black and establishing their particular personalities and genres.  Stiller is the action hero (think Stallone or Schwarzenegger), Downey is the dramatic Oscar winner (like Russell Crowe), and Black is the dumb comedy star (like Eddie Murphey...or himself before King Kong).  Knowing this, we are introduced to the situation.  These three actors, opposites in every way, have been placed into the film version of a book called "Tropic Thunder" that tells the 'true' story of a soldier who fought in Vietnam.  The film is already behind schedule and over-budget after only 5 days of filming, and the producer (played by Tom Cruise) is threatening death and violence on all involved.  So the director, needing to do something drastic, takes the cast into the jungle where there are hidden cameras and pyrotechnics to scare them and work them into a controlled frenzy.  However, an accident gets the director killed and the men are suddenly thrust into a battle with opium dealers.  Suddenly, the experience is real and the men are fighting for their lives while hilarious and down-right 'wrong' humor carries us through.

I really liked this movie.  Yes it is offensive in many ways...for example, Downey Jr. is playing a white Australian actor who is cast as a black soldier...and he works in all the stereotypes he can.  But its supposed to be offensive, that's the joke.  There's also quite a bit of gore, violence, and language in it that fairly earns this movie an honest R rating.  Of course, if we all decide to not take our children to see this...we can have a very adult good time.  Stiller's direction (yes, he directed this) is very effective and the script is a marvelous spoofing of the conventions of all kinds of film...not just the action/war genre.  Yeah, some of the spoofing is fairly obvious but much of it is also very witty and frankly, I've thought some of these things myself about the industry.  The actors do a wonderful job at selling the comedy and are mostly successful (there are a few jokes that made me groan) and the action and suspense all works too.  There's quite a lot of things blowing up and a lot of adrenaline pumping in some of the scenes, which is why this fits into the category of action.  However, this movie is much more likely to make you laugh than to thrill you.  But please, if you do go see this, make sure that you realize that this movie rivals "Family Guy" in terms of crude and irreverent.  But if those things make you laugh, then by all means watch this movie.  If not, then steer is not for you.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Well its got wheels and curtains in the windows and it looks like a big Tylanol!

My look into action continues after another slight delay, as we look at a picture that's not only a thrill-a-minute but its also a laugh-a-minute, but first lets talk about life.  I'm officially on summer break now, and I'm enjoying it...but it is a little boring.  I won't lie.  Of course, I'd probably be a lot happier if all was well with my new home theater set up.  Oh don't worry, there's nothing wrong with the new tv, it arrived in perfect condition and works great...its the audio receiver.  When we plugged it in, the fan was making a clicking noise and it sounded like something was loose inside and hitting the fan.  I probably could have fixed it, but I didn't want to open it up and void my warranty.  So I had to return the receiver today and they won't exchange it, because its out of stock now...also, I had to pay my own return charges which stank.  And I can't buy a new receiver until next week when I have the refund money back in my account (I'm a little broke right now).  Otherwise, things are fine.  Everything works, I just don't have amazing sound right now.  In other news, I met up with some friends over the weekend and had some well-deserved fun.  In a few weeks I'll be back down in Athens to take classes, and I'm hoping some of those people will be around to hang out with.  I know one or two will be gone for summer by then, sadly.  Oh well.  I think Dad is excited that I'll be there...I think he's lonely.

Anywhere, now's the time to talk about this evening's film which is considered quite the classic in the comedy world, but it does qualify as action as it spoofs the disaster films that were so popular back in the 1970s and so it has a fair amount of action set pieces in it.  So buckle yourselves in and get ready to relive the sides-splitting laughter and suspense that is Airplane!

The film opens at a bustling airport where Hare Cristinas are being accosted by the Church or Religious Consciousness and two announcer voices are arguing over whether or not the white zone or the red zone is for immediate loading and unloading of passengers.  Amidst the chaos we meet our main characters, Ted Striker and Elaine Dickinson, who appear to be breaking up.  Elaine is a stewardess on a flight to Chicago and just wants Ted to leave her alone, and Ted doesn't want to fly because of past problems.  However, Ted manages to get himself on the plane before it leaves and attempts to patch things up with her...making surrounding passengers suicidal with boredom from his stories about their relationship.  Also on board is a little girl who needs a heart transplant, a doctor, a nun with a guitar, several married couples, and a wacky flight crew.  It would seem that that was enough for this film...but wait, there's more!  When food poisoning begins making everyone on the plane sick, Ted is called upon to fly the plane to safety, assuming his nerves can stand it.

There's more than enough crazy shenanigans to keep several planes in the air and to keep anyone laughing...well, anyone who has a funnybone.  What's that you say?  Surely a film made in 1980 can't be that funny now.  Well I tell you that it can be...and don't call me Shirley.  Airplane! was one of the many collaborations between Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker, and like Top Secret and The Naked Gun this film is full of bad puns, sight gags, and raunchy humor.  What makes this film more superior to those others stems from its careful juggling of the comedy and the suspense.  The film, even when its jokes are lame, is very exciting and makes you want to keep watching until the film ends and you find out what happens to everyone.  There is much that is quotable about the film as well, like the 'Don't call me Shirley' lines and the Jive scenes, and the actors are all top notch as well.  Its also amusing how the film lampoons the conventions of disaster films like Airport and others like it, including the unusually diverse supporting cast and the over-dramatic reactions to everything that goes wrong in the plot.  All of it is designed to get any cheap laugh it can out of you, not unlike the work of Mel Brooks.  So if you're in the mood for something a little exciting and very absurd, Airplane! should be right up your alley.  Check it out, and fly the funny skies.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Back to the Action

I'm back with another look at another action flick for you...I know, its been forever.  I have no excuses, I just haven't felt like writing.  Yeah, I did write on Monday...but that wasn't really about movies.  It was more about life...and I try not to write too much about my life because it always sounds frivolous and whiny.  I mean, if something really awesome can bet I'm gonna write about it.  However, mostly nothing happens to me.  See?  I'm already sounding whiny.

Anyway, today I'm talking about one of the genre's classics from the 1980s that was written by a fresh out of school writer and designed as a vehicle for its two stars.  It also is responsible for the rash of buddy/cop flicks that were released in its wake (much like how Scream was responsible for all of its clones in the mid-late 90s).  To this day it is still a raw and unrelenting picture that is laced with great comic moments and has a darkside that is unlike its three sequels.  So lets dive right in and find out why Danny Glover thinks that Mel Gibson is a Lethal Weapon.

The film opens with a cheery rendition of "Jingle Bell Rock" as the camera travels over the city and finally lands inside of the window of an L.A. highrise where a prostitute is getting high and decides to kill herself by jumping out of the window.  Then we are introduced to our heroes.  The first is Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) who has just turned 50 and is feeling old as he watches his children grow up and his life goes by.  The second is Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson), a man who has been suicidal ever since the death of his wife.  Both men are detectives with LAPD and have been forced to work together on the suicide case.  Things start getting stranger when they discover that the suicide was actually a murder, the drugs the prostitute was taking were laced with drain cleaner, and to make matters worse...she was the daughter of an old friend of Murtaugh's and he wants Murtaugh to take violent revenge on the men responsible.  As the plot thickens and the film races toward its powder-keg conclusion, we see their relationship grow and find out if Riggs really has it in him to kill himself.

The first Weapon is a lot darker than most people remember, and while yes it does have Riggs and Murtaugh cracking wise and having a fun time...that doesn't mean the film really is a fun time like its followups.  This is a dark film that asks tough questions about depression and loss and deals with violence in a frank and straightforward manner.  Most of this comes from writer Shane Black's dark take on the cop drama as he saw it in the 1980s.  Black is well known as the writer of several audience favorites including The Last Boy Scout, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and The Monster Squad.  He also appeared as Hawkins in Predator, so he is no stranger to the action genre.  However, one has to also acknowledge the contribution of director Richard Donner...who's specialty is loud and bombastic crowd pleasers...and lead players Gibson and Glover, who make their characters seem like real people.  Now don't get me wrong, I think this is a great movie, but I prefer the sillier times found in parts 2 and 3.  I mean, I like to have fun while watching action and this movie is very dark.  That said, its a wonderful film and one that everyone should see once...(and for those of you with a leaning toward attraction for the male sex...Mel Gibson shows off his rather nice rear end right at the start of the film).