Saturday, October 30, 2010

In Space No One Can Hear You Scream

Could that possibly be the best tagline for a movie ever?  At least one of the best.  It is so simple and yet so chilling.  It makes you think about the isolation and the silence of space while also wondering what horrible occurrence would make one want to scream.  The publicists of Alien must have really understood what director Ridley Scott and company were trying to accomplish with Dan O'Bannon's and Ronald Shusett's spec script that looked at horror science fiction in a lens that went beyond the typical B-movie 'monsters-in-suits' films that audiences had seen before.  With 2001: A Space Odessey and Star Wars having reinvented and reinvigorated science fiction as a viable film genre, 20th Century Fox was hungry for a new A-list sci-fi project to sell to the public.  They couldn't have been prepared for the critical success that it would receive or the franchise that it would sprout from it.  But you don't want a history lesson, you want to hear about the film (though I can't imagine that anyone interested in film hasn't seen this film), so lets dive in and revisit one of the most suspenseful movies of all time.

The crew of the Nostromo, an intergalactic mineral ore refinery, is awakened from hypersleep during their long journey home to Earth and are surprised and alarmed to find that they are only halfway home.  Captain Dallas interfaces with MU-TH-UR, the ships computer, and finds that they were awakened in order to investigate a distress signal of unknown origin on an uncharted planet.  The crew lands the craft and sends three crewmembers out to investigate the source of the transmission while the remaining four stay behind to fix damages that occurred in the landing.  The reluctant explorers are shocked to find a derelict spacecraft of clearly alien design.  Inside they find that the crew are either gone or dead and below decks they find that there are several large egg-shaped objects, each holding a small crab-like organism.  When one of the organisms attaches itself to the face of Kane, an unlucky crew man, he is taken back to the ship and they take off from the desolate place.  Soon after, the alien creature that was implanted in Kane by the organism erupts from his chest and disappears into the corridors of the ship. The crew must then find and kill the beast before it can kill them.

It is a very simple story and one that has been played out in numerous other films of lesser quality, namely It! The Terror From Beyond Space, but Alien manages to rise above those tales through its inventive production design, deft direction by Ridley Scott, superior performances by its cast, and a truly unique and unmatched creature at its center.  H.R. Giger's alien designs are truly the stuff of nightmares and the realization of the creature effects in both performance and practical design are what make it enduring.  This is not a standard 'man in a suit' with scales and fangs, this is a bio-mechanical creature with reptilian and insectile influences but no real reference to any existing animal in nature.  It really does look not of this Earth.  However, that look would be nothing without the sexual subtext of the creature.  The head is unpleasantly phallic, while the exoskeleton recalls images of anorexic models, and its movements are strangely slow and seductive while also fast and deadly a rapist.  Also like a rapist is the facehugger creature which forcibly enters the human body and then impregnates the victim with the alien's unwanted child...a child that inevitably kills the parent.  Special note should also be given to the film's performers, particularly Sigourney Weaver as Ripley.  Ripley, originally written and conceived as a man, has become one of film's first female action heroes as well as one of the most memorable and enduring heroes in science fiction.  She is firm and smart, but also vulnerable.  She is, in my opinion, a modern 'everyman' figure who represents an average person thrust into extraordinary circumstances and does the best she can in a crisis.  She is the kind of person I wish I was when the chips are down, as I tend to crumple or back down from trouble.  However, I can relate to her reluctance to being a hero as I, and I'm sure others, would much rather have other people take charge.  But when she is forced to be strong, she is.  All this would be useless without Weaver's honest and wholly realistic portrayal of the character.  Ripley could easily become a caricature of bravado, or (as many small-minded people believe) a lesbian...but Weaver's timing and wit make Ripley a real person that we can relate to.  Seriously though, if you haven't seen Alien yet you need to run out to the video store (or search it on Netflix) and get it because it simply is a masterpiece.  Do yourself a favor and give yourself a scare.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Night No One Comes Home

Some films just can't ever seem to get a fair shake due to audience perception.  Its inevitable that sequels disappoint the fans who made the originals popular, taking into account that many sequels are rushed and poorly put together, but some sequels get flack when they aren't really bad.  Not as good sure, different sometimes, but not bad.  Horror fans are the worst at this as they love to say what is most important to them in their films, but then rate newer films on a different set of standards entirely.  In this case, the horror sequel simply cannot win.  Once again, I reiterate that many sequels are truly terrible, but not as many as the vocal community would have us believe.  This is of course acknowledging the sequels that follow the same thread from one film to another and allows us to know what to expect...but what of the sequel that is unrelated to the previous film?  These don't happen often, but when they do fans tend to have a special store of hatred saved up for these.  These are the films that fans would probably love if they were named as originals, but since there's a two, three, or four in the title they are automatically trussed up and burned in effigy.  Halloween III: Season of the Witch is one of these casualties.  It is a smart and almost subversive film that pokes fun at Halloween traditions and also at advertising.  It also acknowledges that John Carpenter meant to kill Michael Myers off at the end of Halloween II and was intended to be the start of a yearly series of films that played with American Halloween conventions (Michael Dougherty's recent  Trick 'r Treat would have been cheerfully at home in this series) so that the sequels didn't get stale with always having to bring Michael back from the dead (or explain why he hasn't yet died).  Unfortunately, the fans cried foul and we were given a few more decent sequels featuring old Pale Face as the series descended into one of the bigger embarrassments of the horror world (for anyone who cares, I think the good post III sequels are 4 and H20, with 5 and 6 being fun incoherent messes....the remake and the remake's sequel I admire for trying to do something different, but I do not care for because they crept too far away from what Halloween was).  But this isn't a post about Myers, this is about The Season of the let's put on our Silver Shamrock masks and watch the Magic

The story begins a mere 8 days before Halloween in California.  Everything seems normal for Dr. Dan Challis until a gas station attendant brings in an exhausted man who begins raving when he hears a commercial on the television advertising Silver Shamrock Halloween masks.  Dan thinks that the man is simply exhausted and sick, but begins to suspect other forces at work when a man walks into the hospital, breaks the man's skull with his bare hands, and then lights himself on fire in the parking lot.  He finds out that the man, Harry Grimbridge, had a toy shop and a daughter named Ellie in her 20s.  Ellie suspects that something happened to her father while he was in the town of Santa Mira collecting more Silver Shamrock masks directly from the factory (the masks have been selling like hotcakes this year thanks to the catchy commercials).  The two of them agree to head to Santa Mira where they find that the entire town population is Irish and works at the Silver Shamrock factory for Conal Cochran, an apparent legend in the manufacture and sale of novelties.  Everyone seems friendly, yet there is a strange and suspicious air hanging over the town.  Soon Ellie and Dan find themselves on the run from Cochran's henchmen as they try to unravel the mystery of Silver Shamrock's masks and how they tie in to a plot to kill the nation's children on Halloween Night.

I initially didn't care for Halloween III because I watched it as a teenager and resented the idea that Michael Myers was not in many did upon its initial release...but I grew to like it and to almost prefer it to the original Halloween (sacrilege I know) due to its chilling story and 'nationwide' stakes.  I usually watch it every October because, as Carpenter and Debra Hill intended, it stands on its own and acknowledges the commercial side of Halloween which is often featured in movies set on the holiday but usually in just decor and not the actual marketing used to sell Halloween to people.  It also reminds me of a time in the US when Halloween was an event rather than a holiday that was overtaken by the steamroller of Christmas before its day is even over.  When I was a kid around that time, Halloween programing was either made or recycled for the channels I watched and stores, restaurants, and radio stations all got into the act to enjoy the spooky and silly aspects of the holiday.  Now, people go trick or treating and have Halloween parties because its something that's done every year...but not because its special.  Hell, some kids don't even dress up anymore.  Its really sad because it takes the piss out of a great Fall holiday that I used to look forward to yearly.  I strongly believe that if this film were remade nowadays (and I think it should be...I've got a great script for it too) it would be even more relevant than it was in the 80s.  Halloween really has become a sad joke and needs to be revived and respected, which is the driving ideal behind Cochran's whole plan.  I think if you're a horror fan and you've avoided this film because of its non-association with Michael Myers, you owe it to yourself to give it a chance just once.  Oh...and regardless of if you love it or hate it...just try getting that damn Silver Shamrock Song out of your head.

(to the tune of London Bridge is Falling Down)
Four more days till Halloween,
Halloween, Halloween
Four more days till Halloween
Silver Shamrock!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Midnight Movies and Fishnet Hose

In the life of a movie lover such as myself, there comes a film that forever changes who you are and your perception of life forever (edit: there are often several films that do this) and it is these films that remain our favorites forever.  The film I want to talk about today did several things, not just for me, but for pop culture itself.  For me, it introduced me to one of my favorite oddball musicals and facilitated an introduction to my best friend in high school (if we had not seen it at that time, we might not have made our connection).  For pop culture, it has become THE template for the cult film...which is a film that has a concentrated and rabid base of fans who are a subset of the average film fan.  It has also introduced lines, songs, and even dances into the American lexicon of entertainment and has become one of the longest running and more interactive theatrical films of all time.  To this day, even though it is 35 years old, the film still plays in movie theaters across the country and each year inducts more 'virgins' into its cult.  Now lets slap on our garter belts and dive into the absolute pleasure that is The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Brad Majors (asshole!) and Janet Weiss (slut!) are a couple of clean cut kids who are monogamously coupled, yet haven't taken that plunge into matrimony.  However, on the day that their friends Ralph Hapschat (Hap-shit!) and Betty Monroe (the ho) are finally wed, Brad and Janet decide to dive in and go for it in a frenzy of song.  To celebrate their new engagement, they head down to road to visit an old friend of theirs, Dr. Everett Scott.  However, as a sinister looking Criminologist with no neck tells us, it begins to rain and soon they are caught with a flat (How 'bout that?) out in the middle of nowhere.  Brad remembers that they passed a castle a mile back and decides that they should go ask if they have a telephone.  Anyone who has seen B-movies in the past knows that going to the spooky looking castle in the middle of a thunderstorm is a bad idea and that turns out to be equally valid here.  What they find is a house full of weirdos who are there for the Annual Transylvanian Convention, including a creepy butler named Riff-Raff, a very creepy domestic named Magenta, and a spangled groupie named Columbia.  Soon after, in complete terror, Brad and Janet are introduced to Dr. Frank-N-Furter...the master of the castle and self-proclaimed 'sweet transvestite' and mad scientist.  He invites (commands?) Brad and Janet up to his lab so they can see his newest creation, a blond adonis named Rocky Horror whom Frank intends to use to relieve his.....tension.  From then on out, things get particularly weird (you mean they weren't weird enough????).
Is there anything quite like Rocky Horror?  I don't know.  I've seen things that have been titilating, things that have been funny, things that have been disturbing, and even things that have been musical...but I can't recall anytime when they've all been mashed together so effectively.  Its interesting to hear creator Richard O'Brian (who also plays Riff Raff in the film) talk about how he came up with the musical that has been his bread and butter for much of his career and he merely states that he started writing it for fun.  It was just a lot of kooky ideas that he mixed together to see what came out and end the end we get what is like watching a double-feature B-movie show from the 50s with one half being science fiction/horror schlock and the other half being sexploitation.  But wait...there's more.  For those of you who are uninitiated to Rocky Horror, you may have found my comments in the summary that were in parethesis to be out of place and strange.  Not so when watching the film on the big screen because, as many people are aware, the film has become a huge interactive sensation.  People go to the movie houses that are playing the movie (at midnight, naturally) and come in costume, yell back at the screen, and throw props that corrospond to the film.  For example, in the opening wedding scene the audience throws rice along with the well-wishers while making sure to call Brad an asshole when his full name is mentioned and to call Janet a slut when her full name is said.  In other places, the call-backs are meant to make characters say things that they aren't meant to say by changing the context.  For example, when the Criminologist says "Its true that there were dark storm clouds...heavy, black, and pendulous...toward which they were driving."  The audience typically adds what is show in the parenthesis...(Is it true you're constipated?) "It's true.  There were dark storm clouds..." (Describe your balls!) "Heavy, black, and pendulous..."  You get the idea, right?  By adding the participation and the revalry, the fans have literally hijacked the film from its creators and have given it a life of its own completely unintended upon initial conception.  It really is remarkable in fact that experts and historians are still writing about it to this very day (along with us amaturs of course).  So if you've never seen the movie, or if you have and never tried the theatrical experience, I highly recommend trying it on for size.  Like a pair of four inch spike heels, it may seem uncomfortable at first, but it can make you feel sooooo good.  "Don't dream it."

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Where Are you Going? The Party's Just Begun

As Halloween approaches, most people will be watching and reviewing such classics as Halloween and Psycho for the holiday...reveling in the acclaim and classy stature that those well known genre-favorites hold while not taking too big a risk in watching and embracing critical darlings.  I however, while enjoying those movies, like to tackle lesser known and decidedly trashier fare from the 80s during my Halloween revelry.  Many of these horror films aren't terribly good or well-acted, the one I plan to look at today is particularly bad in the acting department, but damn if they don't manage to consistently unsettle me...perhaps even more-so than Halloween or Friday the 13th.  Maybe its their gritty look and no-budget approach, or perhaps its the dark and depressing atmosphere, or maybe its even the idea that sometimes its not overly obvious who will and who won't survive.  Either way, these nasty and trashy films are surely worth watching around All Hallows Eve to get you into a spooky mood.  However, they are not for beginners.  The film I plan to talk about to day is one I recommend for getting away from the more well-known films and into the dark and seedy backstreets of the unknowns.  Angela's party won't wait forever, so lets hurry up and party during the Night of the Demons.

Its Halloween Night, 1988, and a group of teens have been invited to a Halloween party at Hull House, a notorious abandoned local mortuary.  The kids include Judy, a clean-cut and innocent blond, Sal, the bad boy who wants to get in Judy's pants, Suzanne, the best friend of the host and requisite slut, and Angela, the hostess of the party.  There are others involved as well and they begin the evening with heavy drinking, smoking, and dancing.  It seems to be the typical party in the old so-called haunted house, but when the kids decide to explore the cellar and hold an impromptu seance with a mirror they awaken something invisible and evil.  The first to be taken is Suzanne who then passes the evil to Angela via a very racy (for the time) kiss.  They begin acting strange and soon are transforming into vicious monsters with a thirst for blood and mayhem.  It seems that the kids are being possessed one-by-one by evil demons that reside within the house and the remaining teens are now left to run for their lives.  What follows is some of the most gory and inventive genre vomit to come out of American Horror in the 1980s including a much talked about 'lipstick tube' scene which I won't ruin here.

Night of the Demons is trashy and irredeemable...which is what makes it so much friggin' fun to watch.  It knows exactly what type of exploitation film it wants to be and exactly who its audience is and isn't ashamed at all to put it right out there.  Demons could play remarkably well alongside the Tarantino and Rodriguez double-feature Grindhouse for its sheer sleeze factor.  The only difference in the two would be the level of acting talent displayed on screen.  Amelia Kinkade as Angela is pretty good as the party hostess and eventually demon leader, as is Billy Gallo as Sal and Hal Havins as Stooge, the obligatory idiot.  However, Cathy Podewell as Judy, Linnea Quigley as Suzanne, and Jill Terashita as Frannie (obligatory Asian girl) are so cringeworthy that you spend quite a bit of time waiting for them to get offed just so you don't have to hear their bland voices any longer (Quigley actually improves once she goes demon)...but lets face it.  None of these girls were cast for acting chops, they were cast because they had nice boobs and looked good unclothed.  Given my orientation, I can't give you an honest assessment on the quality of the T&A of the film suffice to say that there's a lot of it.  I'd comment on the other actors, but I honestly can't remember them all that well.  They're just the typical teenage archetypes and stereotypes.  I'm glad more of the budget went into the effects work, which is top notch.  The makeup and gore effects are amazing for a film of this caliber and make the film succeed where it should fail.  Also of note is the writing, which isn't great but it gives us some amazingly quotable lines.  Lines such as "Do you guys have 'sour' balls?" and "Eat a bowl of Fuck! I am here to party!" are true gems, and I think a few have even become internet memes. I think now would be a good time to say that I don't think my mother should watch this film...but any self-respecting horror fan should.  I promise you won't ever be the same.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Who Could Ever Learn to Love a Beast?

This week has been pretty easy so far and I don't mind that at all after the whirlwind of last week.  I've got the kids working on a project in the library and we've only got two days left in the week before its over.  Then I have a comfy three day weekend and two teacher workdays before I see the kids again.  It'll be a nice break, and will be matched with several more great bluray releases this month.  Last week saw the release of Grindhouse, and then The Exorcist and finally this Disney classic from 1991.  I recall seeing this one in the theater the Christmas of 1991, which was particularly magical as it was the first time I'd ever been to Disney World as well.  It was expected to be as fun and enthralling as The Little Mermaid had been but I don't think anyone could have predicted the success and acclaim that it would gain upon its initial release.  To this day, its still my mom's favorite animated Disney classic and always manages to make both of us cry.  Lets examine true animation artistry now as we revisit Beauty and the Beast.

The story begins in typical fairy tale fashion, chronicling the story of a young French prince who was spoiled and unkind to others.  One night, he refuses to give an old woman shelter and the woman, after warning him to not be decieved by appearences, transforms into a beautiful enchantress.  Deciding that he needs to be taught a lesson, she transforms him into a hideous beast and places a full enchantment on the castle and all who live there.  She leaves him with a magical rose that will show him the passage of time.  If he can learn to love and have someone love him in return before the last petal falls from the rose, he will be transformed.  If not, he will remain a beast forever.

Years later, as the rose is nearing its last year, a young girl named Belle is dealing with having to live in a closed-minded and provincial little town where her strong-willed nature and intelligence are seen as odd.  Her father, a batty inventor, goes to have an invention evaluated at a fair and gets lost on the way.  He seeks shelter at the Beast's castle and is thrown in the dungeon.  When Belle discovers this, she goes to the castle and agrees to stay captive in his place.  It is from this that their relationship begins to take shape and the Beast realizes that she is his last chance for salvation from the curse.

Yeah, I know.  I talked only about the serious parts and left out the songs and the comedy, but really...when you think about it, the story is really serious.  I suppose that makes the spectacular musical numbers and comedy even better, because you need the lightness to off-set the dark and serious.  Of strong note are the characters of Lumiere and Cogsworth, voiced by Jerry Orbach and David Ogden Stires respectively.  They form a perfect 'odd couple' relationship that becomes something you want there to be more that means there's a perfect amount.  There also isn't a forgettable song in the bunch.  The title song, Belle, Be Our Guest, and even the added Human Again (special edition version) stick with you for days and express the longing of the characters to want exactly what it is they expect from life.  In many ways, the film is about longing and finding the right pieces to fill what's missing in your own life.  I think that's why I always cry, because it makes you believe that everything works out for a reason and that everyone will have a happy ending.  Also, its comforting to know that there is someone who can see past our surface flaws and see the beauty underneath.  There's a reason this was the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture (all hype aside) and it is something that everyone should own.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Power of Christ Compels You...

Its October...the air is getting chillier, the leaves are turning, and the scent of woodsmoke is in the air. Fall is a great time of year, it gives us a break from the heat and humidity of summer without the bleak dead-ness of winter. Another great thing about fall is the holidays it holds, including Thanksgiving and Halloween. Halloween is my personal favorite because of all the spooky wonder it holds. I don't really do costumes anymore, with the exception of the occasional Athens celebration, but I do enjoy Horror films and the occasional spooky walk through the local cemetery. Oh, and the candy is good too. Beginning my run through horror films this month is a classic both of film and of literature. In the 70s it confronted the country with the idea that true evil exists in the world and often lashes out against good for no reason. It also used the themes within Christianity to show that evil. The film really needs no introduction, so lets get right to it. I give you, The Exorcist.

In Iraq, a priest named Lancaster Merrin has unearthed a new archeological dig and can't quite shake a nagging feeling.  The artifacts are strange and some represent the demon Pazuzu and Merrin feels the presence of intense evil in the air.  It is clear that he is rushing towards a confrontation of some kind.

Meanwhile, in Georgetown, the young daughter of Chris MacNeil, Regan, is beginning to experience strange events and behavior.  Chris first thinks that Regan is having bad dreams and is being frightened by the sounds of rats in the attic...but soon things escalate to an alarming point.  It becomes clear that Regan believes that she is being tormented by a malevolent spirit which is trying to take over her body.

Nearby, a Jesuit priest named Damian Karras is questioning his faith after witnessing so much evil and despair in the world and dealing with the death of his elderly mother.  He is ready to leave the church when he is asked by Chris MacNeil to see her daughter, who is now clearly possessed by a demon.  He will be joined by Lancaster Merrin and both of them will perform the ritual of exorcism for the girl to try and save her soul.

The Exorcist is so rich a narrative that it is amazing that it makes the great film that it turned out to be.  The book really does read like the three parts above, with three stories all happening at the same time and finally intersecting at the end.  It shouldn't work as a film, as we prefer to be with a single story as viewers, but the way that writer William Peter Blatty adapts his own book and the way that William Friedkin directs it is spot on.  They play the material, which at its core is very absurd, completely straight and almost with a documentary feel.  This makes it seem completely legitimate and even in 1973 upon its release, people believed what they were seeing on screen.  The performances are also award worthy, which is why several of them were nominated for Oscars.  Ellen Burstyn and Linda Blair are both amazing in the film as the mother and daughter at the center of the whirlwind of evil, each bringing a sincerity and realness to their relationship.  Jason Miller is equally impressive as Damian Karras, considering he was a playwright and had not acted in film before this.  And don't forget Lee J. Cobb as a detective on the case (loved him in Twelve Angry Men) and Max Von Sydow in old age makeup playing Father Merrin, the exorcist.  Everyone in the film feels as if they are really those characters...almost as though there is no acting happening at all.  If you've never seen The Exorcist it really is a terrific and unsettling film that holds a very uplifting message within the folds of its terrifying plot...if there is great evil in this world, then there must be great good as well that will always overcome it.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

One Good Hayley Mills Movie Deserves Another

Today went rather smoothly, though I could have totally given more to my juniors...they had at least 10 minutes of down time.  Tomorrow is the first block day and I'm still nervous about it, but I think I've loaded enough things into it to keep the kids busy. There will be whining and gnashing of teeth, but they'd do that anyway.  Besides, we won't know how much more or less we have to plan for these long periods until we do it the first time right?  I can always pull things our of my ass if I have to.  Its all about making it relevant and creating teaching moments...that's what you have to do as a teacher.  And just because you make up an assignment on the fly doesn't mean it isn't a valid assignment.  Anyway, I'm just gonna relax and decompress with some exploitation theater the meantime however I have the honor of bringing you another Disney family classic starring the irrepressible Hayley Mills along side....Hayley Mills.  Lets get into double trouble (groan for the bad pun) and look back at The Parent Trap.

Sharon McKendrick is a regular teenager going to an upscale summer camp for the first time in her sheltered Boston life.  While there she runs into Susan Evers, a girl who looks exactly like her, and the two begin an antagonistic relationship that culminates is friendship when they are forced to share a cabin by the head counselor.  Shortly after this, the two discuss their birthdays and parents and discover more coincidences than they can believe.  It turns out that they are identical twin sisters who's parents split-up long ago.  Not wanting to be parted, they hatch a scheme to get their parents back together.  Susan will switch places with Sharon and they will each have some time to get to know the parent that they were unable to know in the past.  Then, they will reveal the switch which will force their mother to reconnect with their father in California (apparently Boston is no place to rekindle a romance).  Susan immediately adores her mother, Maggie, and Sharon is completely taken with her father, Mitch, and all seems to be going to plan until Sharon finds out about Vicki, the gold digging fiancee of Mitch who intends to marry him for his money.  Suddenly the girls are in a race to submarine Vicki while also pushing their parents back together.

If Pollyanna is pure optimism, The Parent Trap is like a real-life fantasy and is surprisingly edgy for Disney at this time.  It wasn't often that hit Disney films took place in the modern world, and it was equally unusual for one to deal so frankly with sex, teenage development, and divorce (well, frank for 1961 anyway).  I can't think of another family film from the same period where you saw a bra hanging on a shower door or heard one of the characters imply that another character was a big whore.  I think that this edge is part of why I've always liked this film more that others from that period.  The performances are top notch as well.  Hayley once again surprises in a duel role that never gets confusing, although she mentions herself that she would sometimes get confused between take to take.   However, I can always tell when she is Susan and when she is Sharon.  Maureen O'Hara is also a scream as Maggie, the lovely and irrepressible mother of the twins...who is the perfect foil for Brian Keith's grounded and yet volatile Mitch.  The supporting players are tremendous as well, always getting a laugh out of me.  I really adore this film and think more people should watch it, as an antidote to sappier or more cloying family fare.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Let's Play the Glad Game

Wow, what a blah weekend I had.  I did not enjoy Friday very much, for reasons I don't really understand.  I think its because possibly I wanted to have plans and didn't, plus I knew I was going to lose my Saturday evening at the dance.  I think I just felt like I didn't have the 'me' time that I I had to plan for the block periods and didn't really do it how I meant to...but I did manage to do it in my own way.  I know what I'm going to do now, but since its my first time with block I'm not sure if I'll do it well.  I guess I can only get through the day and see how it all goes.  I'm sure it will be fine...but I tend to worry the first time through things.  However, I'm also glad about this week because there's a new Blu-ray coming out tomorrow that I can afford and its our last 5 day school week for a while.  I guess I'm playing the Glad Game, which is a great little game to play when one feels 'blah'.  I know, its sounds a little corny and gay, but sometimes you really need to work to be positive...which is why I've chosen to look at a classic film that's often derided as being sappy or overly-optimistic.  Lets go back in time to when Walt Disney still was running the Disney company and watch Pollyanna.

The town of Harrington, a New England village, has existed for a long time without much change.  The people are all stern minded and keep mainly to themselves while also trying to keep Polly Harrington, the richest woman in town and pretty much the owner of the town, happy.  However, all this changes when Pollyanna Whittier comes to town.  Pollyanna's mother was Aunt Polly's sister and both she and her minister husband have died leaving Pollyanna an orphan, so Aunt Polly takes her in.  Aunt Polly seems to care about Pollyanna, but her cold exterior and strict rules distance her from her young niece.  Pollyanna doesn't let it phase her however because she has 'the Glad Game'.  Basically, she turns negatives to positives by looking at how she can be glad about a particular situation.  The town scoffs at this optimism, because to them there is little to be glad about with a dictator as the head of town, a preacher who teaches fire and brimstone, and several citizens who are downright grumpy.  However, one by one Pollyanna worms her way into the hearts of every citizen in town and they soon come to find that she is perhaps the best thing that has ever happened to their little town.

Ok, I know it sounds like sentimental pap and perhaps it is...but this movie always puts me in a grand mood because of the way that that Pollyanna manages to find the one thing that reaches each person and changed their outlook on life.  Its not nearly that easy to change a person's attitude, but sometimes saying the right thing really can help a person through a bad patch.  Also, the performances from the supporting adult cast (which includes Jane Wyman, Agnes Moorehead, and Karl Malden to name a few) are so believable and wonderful that it makes the whole brew work.  Special note should be given to Hayley Mills in her breakout role.  She plays Pollyanna with a genuine sincerity and sweetness that its not surprising that she won a special Oscar for the role.  She has a special quality that connected with audiences at that time and still manages to do so today...otherwise the film would not endure as a classic of family cinema.  Sure, its a bit on the sappy side and there's a reason we refer to people as 'pollyannas' with disdain...but I think that if you examine the movie from that standpoint that you are being as shortsighted as the film's townspeople.  What exactly is wrong with being optimistic and trying to be glad?  Misguided naivete I can certainly frown on, but genuine optimism and sincerity in a world full of cynicism and callousness?  That's something I can definitely get behind.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Pubbbleeeze! I'm Just a Toon!

Well, its been a strangely blah weekend with many ups and middles (no downs really...just spots where I wish I could have had more ups).  I finally started to cheer up yesterday, and then went to the Homecoming Dance to watch the kiddos.  That ended up being more fun that I thought it would be because I got partnered with one of the new math teachers and she was a lot of fun to talk to.  We told funny stories and chatted with our students all evening.  If it hadn't been for two fights (oh the drama) the night would have been super.  Then I slept like a baby, though I did notice that the house was getting chillier.  So I've got the heat on low today to help get me used to it.  Xander's been feeling a chill too, so I turned his heating pad on.  He was happy as a...well....snake, balled up under his log.  He got fed today too, which always makes him pleasant to be around.  You can't handle him for two days after a feeding, which always makes me sadish.  I am quite attached to him and like having him on my lap in the evenings.  I know he's not a dog, but he brings me comfort all the same.  Anyway, I'm gonna hop back in with an oldie and a goodie from the late 1980s...but its not one of those saturated present day tales that revels in 80s culture, rather it is a period piece mystery with a twist on the old formula.  Afterall, its not everyday that an intrepid detective gets to team up with a cartoon rabbit.  So lets head back in time to those glorious Hollywood days of the 40s and find out Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

 Its 1947 and Hollywood animation is in full swing.  All the big studios such as Warner Bros., Disney, and Tex Avery are churning out more and more shorts and features with their hot stars such as Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, and Droopy Dog.  Smaller studios are struggling to keep up, but Maroon Cartoons isn't doing to badly with their stars Roger Rabbit and Baby Herman.  However, R.K. Maroon is worried about his rabbit star, because he keeps blowing his lines and screwing up takes.  He believes that it is troubles at home that are messing up Roger's he hires Detective Eddie Valiant to take some pictures of Roger's wife Jessica cheating on him with Marvin Acme, the head of ACME Industries.  Soon, Acme is dead and the police suspect Roger of the killing.  Judge Doom, the presiding Judge of Toontown,  is out to get Roger for the crime and intends to 'dip' him...which is the only way to kill a toon.  Roger, seeing Eddie as responsible for his predicament, goes to Eddie and annoys him into helping solve the crime and clear his good name.  Meanwhile, Eddie and Roger must keep dodging Jessica, Judge Doom, and the Weasel Gang since there's no one they can trust.

What a fun, entertaining, and exciting film.  Who knew that you could combine an old Hollywood-style film noir mystery with the Golden Age of animation and create one of the best-loved and widely-seen comedies of all time.  Roger Rabbit does so many things right that its hard to spot the elements that it does wrong...such as the mystery's denouncement or the illusion of there being suspects in the tale.  I mean, did any of us really doubt that Judge Doom was the villain behind everything?  However, so much is manic and believable about the story that we don't care at all.  Even the tacked on idea that Doom is the same toon that killed Eddie's brother fits in perfectly because the film has drawn us in so effectively.  By that point, they could have revealed that Doom was the shark from Jaws and we wouldn't have cared.  Special consideration must be given to Bob Hoskins who plays the worn-out detective Valiant and who must constantly act with cartoon characters who aren't really there.  Not only does he never falter at the task, but he is instrumental in making you believe that Roger and the others are there in the room.  Props also to the animators who not only had to create the animated characters for the film, but had to add elements that made the characters more 3-D in appearance by adding shadows and highlights all in separately photographed layers.  They make it all look so easy, but the truth is far from it.  Everyone should watch this one again and rediscover how good it really is.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Finally, a Movie I Can't Find Much Good In

I am amazed, usually when I watch something...even if its not something that I ever feel like watching again...I can usually find some kind words or a good part or two.  However, last night I caught one on Youtube that really was bad...and not in the good way (unless you're already drunk with some friends I suppose...but if you're already that drunk you'd probably be falling asleep).  I felt like a bad movie could possibly cheer me up, since I was rather blah yesterday, but  Well, I might as well dive in...talking about a bad movie is like ripping off a to just do it quick and get it over with.  So lets look at the 1971 stinker, Octaman.

A scientific expedition in Mexico discovers several unusual baby octopus specimens in the radiation contaminated water nearby.  They can't help noticing that it has eyes in front, like a human, and that it is larger than a normal octopus (yet for some reason, the requisite hot foreign girl keeps calling it a squid).  When they capture several of the critters their half-man/half-octopus parent appears to terrorize the hapless scientists.  Soon they are in a life and death struggle with a creature that can squeeze them dead and suck them dry.  Yep...that's about it.  Did I mention this film was shown as "The Attack of the Octopus People" in Gremlins 2: The New Batch.

That last fact was why I sought out this turkey...that and I've been watching bad trailers for terrible 'grindhouse' style films in anticipation of Tuesday's release of the theatrical cut of Grindhouse on Blu-ray.  I saw that this was placed on Youtube and I couldn't sleep last night so I decided to watch it.  I never thought I would see a movie from the 70s that actually looked worse than the monster movies of the 50s...but here it is.  This is even below the quality of one Roger Corman, and he's the king of 'cheap' and 'bad'.  I was amused by some of the scenes, but in the wrong way.  I also found its thin plot incredibly hard to follow due to lousy line delivery and poor editing.  Flashbacks are thrown in without warning, characters are added and removed at the director's whimsy, and the soundtrack is...well, about what you expect, but it sure doesn't help the film.  I would say avoid this at all costs, but somethings are so bad that they have to be seen so that we can learn from the mistakes of the past.  Plus, that monster suit is great proof that even great FX men can crap out some garbage (the suit was created by the legendary Rick Baker of Men in Black).  Peeeeeewwww, I'm gonna cover something much better next time.