Monday, January 24, 2011

Them!!!! Them!!!!

I had a good start to the new semester today and its a good thing too, considering that I was up a good chunk of the night all stressed out about it.  I get weird like that sometimes, where I cannot sleep because I'm worrying about nonsense.  For example: last night I was tense due to starting a new theater class (after having not done one for a year) and due to nervousness about the upcoming shows and all the things I haven't yet done with the Thespian Club.  It was like a dam broke in my psyche and all the junk rolling around flooded out.  On the upside, I didn't have a single worry about Patrick...the guy I am seeing.  I was a little surprised, because usually I worry like crazy.  Things are very comfortable with him though, and I find myself feeling like he'll be around for a long time.  I don't know if that will be the case, but its damn comforting right now.  We're gonna spend another weekend together this coming weekend, so hopefully I'm still feeling that way then.  Anyway, tonight I'm feeling nostalgic for something campy...something from the 1950s...something with giant bugs.  It seems hard to believe that there was a time in the 1950s when giant bug pictures were not prolific in the cinemas, but it was the case before this little gem was released.  Thankfully, despite its imitators and clones, this one is still one of the best and most highly regarded.  But lets not spend all day talking about its accolades, lets just enjoy the film itself.  So, without futher ado, I present the creature feature spectacular...Them!

It is just a routine patrol day for two New Mexico policemen as they drive through the hot, arid desert...routine, that is, until they come across a little girl wandering in a shock.  They take her in and, while searching for anyone who can identify her, they come across a mobile home and a general store that have both been completely destroyed.  They also find one dead body...a man who has been brutally ripped and punctured.  After an FBI agent has been brought in to help and a large animal track is found near the scene, the story attracts a father and daughter scientist team to the town.  They begin an investigation that finally yields a conclusion to the mystery, the countryside is under siege by giant ants!  Apparently, due to nuclear testing in the desert, the indigenous ants have mutated and grown to colossal size.  Because of a lack of a proper food source for them, they have grown carnivorous and have begun to attack the population nearby.  The scientists and the military manage to locate and destroy the nest of these ants...but they find no queen ants within.  These queens have escaped the nest and are now at large forming new colonies somewhere distant.  Will the scientists and the soldiers find the new nests before more people are killed by the creatures?

Them! is still amazingly exciting and suspenseful even today, despite its somewhat primitive creature effects and campy story elements.  However, you'd be surprised at just how realistically it presents its events.  This doesn't follow the usual formula for giant bug movies, with the insect quietly and swiftly killing and taking over a small town with no one ever around to see it till its too late.  Rather, Them! brings the ants front and center at about the half hour mark and then allows its heroes to destroy their hive soon after.  However, then it shifts gears into a chase film where they must find the missing queen ants and kill all the new ants that hatch.  Its more like a big-budget creature feature from today.  Of course, they can't show all the spectacular feats of the ants and do a lot of talking about them...but what they do manage was a cinematic marvel back then.  It was so impressive that the film was nominated for Best Visual Effects, and rightly so.  The chilling sound of the ants and the mechanical creatures themselves are quite frightening.  Of course, and some may cry foul on me for this, but I would love to see a modern remake of this film that uses the majority of the original plot and adds sequences that show off more of the ants and their destruction.  For now, however, this film is perfect for a late night treat.  Its good, old-fashioned creature horror at its best.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

It ain't your momma's Oz...

Seems like I don't blog as much when I don't have a purpose...like when I do a marathon or Christmas, but I'm still trying to get back here more often then I did last year.  I think there were whole month periods when I didn't write...of course, once show season begins (as it is in full swing right now) I tend to just want to be lazy when I finally get home.  Writing on a blog isn't exactly high exertion, but it does require me to use my mind...which is hard to do once the work day ends.  I'm a lot like my father that way.  When he's at work, he's a demon...remembering hundreds of things at once and getting piles of work done.  However, once he gets home, he shuts down and relaxes.  I do basically the same thing, though sometimes I shut down a little before the work day ends (during my last period planning period...shhh, don't tell anyone).  However, sometimes the use of the brain isn't necessary, such as when reviewing a film that was a childhood favorite in our house.  EVERYONE saw and had a copy of The Wizard of Oz, the famous 1939 version with Judy Garland, but few people knew that there was a sequel of sorts created in 1985...at least until recently, thanks to television and DVD.  This version of Oz was not as well received as that Victor Flemming version was...it was several shades darker, not a musical, and portrayed a more realistic fantasy world than the colorful stageshow that was the original.  People felt like Disney (who made the film) was trying to tarnish their treasured memories, Siskel and Ebert especially - who placed it on their "worst of 1985" list.  However, now that plenty of time has passed, people are more willing to see this sequel as a worthy followup to that version...and some even prefer it to the saccharine tone of it.  So let's cross the Deadly Desert and Return to Oz.

Several months have passed since Dorothy Gale visited the land of Oz and Aunt Em and Uncle Henry are trying to get things back to normal.  It isn't easy though, with Henry still nursing a broken leg and a deep depression over losing the old house in the tornado and Em frustrated with Dorothy's continued insistence that Oz is a real place.  Em becomes so worried in fact that she takes Dorothy to a psychologist who specializes in electroshock therapy.  Dorothy is left at the institution with the assurance that she will be healed, but before the treatment can be administered the power goes out and she is rescued by another girl patient.  The two run from the hospital's staff and jump into the river where the other girl disappears and Dorothy climbs aboard a crate.  When she awakens, she finds herself back in Oz with her chicken, Belina.  Things are not well there, however, as Dorothy finds the Yellow Brick Road destroyed and the Emerald City robbed of its emeralds.  It seems an evil mountain dweller known as the Gnome King and his enforcer, Mombi, have taken over the land and turned everyone to stone.  It is up to Dorothy and her new friends Tik-Tok, a clockwork man, Jack, a man made from sticks and a pumpkin, and The Gump, a walking sofa with the head of a green moose, to stop these evil doers and restore Oz to its former glory.

Wow...Dorothy getting shock treatment?  A headless witch with interchangeable heads?  A bad guy who looks like a stone version of Santa Claus?  This certainly isn't the Oz I remembered, and yet it all felt right too, when I saw this as a child.  The characters and situations were taken mainly from L. Frank Baum's books The Land of Oz, Ozma of Oz, and Tik-Tok of Oz and so they felt right at home in the world already established.  Faruza Balk was a very convincing, and age-appropriate, Dorothy, and the music was grand...even if no one was singing.  To me, this was just another adventure like many others that I liked as a child, such as The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth.  Many 'kids fantasies' were darker then, and its something we encourage in fantasy movies now that wasn't encouraged back then.  That's not to say I wasn't completely terrified by portions of it...headless Mombi and The Wheelers were very frightening indeed.  But it was also well balanced by the comedy from Tik-Tok, Jack, and The Gump.  If anything, it made me take the story more seriously.  I NEEDED Dorothy to succeed, so that all this nightmarish stuff could end.  When I watch it now, I can still see a well-scripted and designed film that I plan to show my own children in the future.  If you have never seen Return to Oz, I highly recommend it.  It is an excellent film and a worthy follow up to all the films based on Baum's first Oz book.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Don't Leave Me Hangin'

Ahhh, there's nothing like coming down following a long and awesome weekend.  You aren't exactly anxious to go back to work, but you're still so happy about how the weekend turned out that you can't worry about that too much.  In my case, the week isn't getting me down either because its semester exam week...so its really easy on me and really hard on the kids.  My favorite type of week.  Anyway, why was my weekend so good?  Because I had a successful show and then Sunday and Monday I had a wonderful date with a boy named Patrick...the same Patrick from New Year's Eve.  We're seeing each other now, and already we're planning to see each other again.  I'm pretty excited about it, considering I haven't had a good second date in a long while.  We got to see Black Swan (which is amazing btw), had dinner with some friends, and had some pretty great conversation.  We are very comfortable together, and have many of the same interests.  I just hope it never gets dull.  Anyway, we also went shopping and I ran into some great blu-ray sales...so of course I simply had to indulge.  The film I chose for tonight was one of the discs I bought...a high octane thriller from the early 90s that has a wintry setting and a helluva lotta cliffs.  So let's go high altitude and ascend the heights of the ironically titled, Cliffhanger.

Gabe Walker is a Rocky Mountain Rescue ranger working in one of the national parks in Colorado.  The film opens with him ascending the Tower, the highest peak in the park, to rescue fellow ranger Hal and his inexperienced girlfriend Sarah.  With the help of Gabe's girlfriend and fellow ranger Jessie and the rescue copter's pilot, they use a cable to have Hal climb to safety.  However, when Sarah tries to cross as well, her harness breaks and, despite Gabe's efforts to the contrary, she falls to her death.  Eight months later, a treasury plane is running $100 million to the Boulder Treasury and, with the aid of inside man Travers, the plane is hijacked and robbed by Eric Qualen, a former Military Intelligence member.  However, something goes wrong and the plane crashes into the mountains below.  At the same time, Gabe has returned to the park to take the remainder of his belongings and head for the hills.  Jessie convinces him to join Hal to rescue the downed plane (who they believe to be a lost climbing expedition) and then they find themselves kidnapped by the terrorists and forced to help them find their lost cases of money.  Gabe manages to escape and with Jessie's help, he strives to reach the cases before the terrorists do and before they can kill Hal.

Cliffhanger is yet another action film that takes the Die Hard formula and places it in another locale, this time on the Rocky Mountains.  However, unlike the many clones that that former film spawned, Cliffhanger has a lot going for it.  One, it's treacherous and isolated surroundings are ideal for an action movie given that there are plenty of ways to die there.  The story of lost stolen money that needs to be found is also wonderfully simple and yet rife with possibilities for setups and payoffs.  Then there are the performances.  Stallone plays his usual badass self, but with a bit of the 'tortured-soul' thrown in for flavor.  John Lithgow is also in rare form as the slimy, scary, and insane Qualen.  His accent is a trifle odd, but otherwise he is enjoying the part.  Who knew he could take on Stallone in a fisticuffs match?  Michael Rooker grows on you as Hal, Gabe's old partner.  At first he seems like a stupid bastard...first for taking the girl up to the top of the mountain and allowing her to be killed, and then for blaming Gabe for her demise.  However, his devotion to Gabe and his perseverance in slowing the goons down...and even getting a few licks in for himself...redeems himself.  Overall, Cliffhanger is a great thriller and perfect for a movie night.  There are a few corny action movie moments that keep it from being a whole classic, but its still a great movie.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Creepy Viewing for a Cold Winter's Night

Well, we had a winter storm warning today but nothing happened till around 9am...so therefore we went to school on time this morning.  However, we were sent home early after it got bad out.  Then it started getting better.  Its still supposed to snow and be icky tonight, but its yet to be seen if its going to be bad enough to cancel school tomorrow.  Part of me hopes not, and another part of me hopes it does.  I suppose it would be better for all of us if we had school tomorrow just so we can have our dress rehearsal for the show.  I'm pretty sure we'll have school...but you just never know with this crazy Ohio weather.  Anyway, since it was chilly and wintry I decided to pop in something all about winter isolation and going mad.  Cheery thought no?  It is a film based on a Stephen King novel and one that had been adapted once before, and not to the writer's satisfaction.  So King and some television producers got together to make a new version of his chilling tale so that they could stick closer to the book's material.  Now let's settle in and experience the mini-series version of The Shining.

Jack Torrence is an out of work ex-teacher and alcoholic who is seeking a second chance both with his career and with his family.  His past rounds with the bottle have left his wife mistrustful of him, his son afraid of his temper, and him unemployable as a teacher.  So now, in a last effort to get some work, he goes after the job of winter caretaker at the famed Overlook Hotel.  The job is pretty sweet.  He gets to live in a posh hotel for several months and enjoy plenty of time to himself to write a play.  There are drawbacks however. It is isolated and, being in Colorado, it is certain to be cut off from the nearby town due to bad weather for several weeks...even months.  Also, his son Danny is prone to dizzy spells and fits, which makes Wendy, his wife, nervous.  And that's not all.  It seems that Danny has a psychic gift, that the hotel's cook calls 'shining', and he can see the future as well as psychic echos from the past...and the Overlook wants Danny's gift so it can make its ghosts from the past become reality.  The hotel plans to use every trick it can muster to get the boy including a suicide victim's ghost, a ferocious topiary garden, and even Jack himself.

The Shining is a really great ghost story that strikes a very keen balance between supernatural horror and mental horror.  It is fairly obvious in the book and in this version of the film that there are ghosts after our family of protagonists, but it also doesn't spell absolutely everything out for us either and it questions what is real and what is imagined by its characters.  The effects are good for a TV movie, the quick cut montage with the topiary at the midpoint of episode two is one of the standouts, and the performances by most of the cast are effective too.  Steven Weber manages to make Jack Torrence sympathetic as he descends into madness and also keeps the character from going too crazy too fast (unlike Jack Nicholson from the original, who many have criticized that he turned crazy much too soon).  Is this version better than the original Kubrick version?  That's really a matter of preference.  As much as I hate how Kubrick's version changes King's story willy nilly, I still think its the better film...but this one is nice for those who always wanted to see a film version that stuck closer to what King originally imagined.  See both if you can handle the suspense, and make your own choice.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A quick update

So our first week back at school was pretty smooth, with only a few rough spots early on in the week.  Its always hard to get back into the swing of things after a long break...and the first few days I was pretty tired.  But I think we're back on track.  The first week of rehearsals for the revue went relatively smoothly as well, and I think the show will be ready to go by Thursday's opening night.  I don't know if it will be as good as last year's show, but it will still be a good night of entertainment.  It's hard to believe that next week ends the semester, and the following week we will have exams...the year has passed so quickly thus far.  I can only hope that the second half passes just as quickly.  I mean, I enjoy my work...but I enjoy summer too.  I have a great many plans for the coming summer, and I intend to enjoy it to the fullest.  I won't need to take classes, so the time is completely my own this year.  I will have more time to spend with friends, and I may have a special person in my life as well.  No, there's no one in particular yet...but I am hopeful that there will be someone.  I think I'm due for a bit of personal happiness.

This coming week I will be even more busy, what with the final rehearsals and dress rehearsal and then the show.  Friday will seem a blessing, since I will not have rehearsal or a show to worry about.  Also, my friend Patrick will be coming down to visit on Sunday since I have a long weekend.  I'm gonna cook for him and we're gonna probably watch some movies.  Its gonna go fast (which is good).  I can't wait to get started on the senior class play, I think it's gonna be a fun time for all involved...and maybe we'll get a bigger audience since its a comedy.  Who knows?

Anyway, that's all for today.  I'll be back tomorrow to talk movies once more and share a bit of my wisdom with you.  Take care friends and I will return.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

Wow, what a New Year's Eve.  I had a great low-key time and I only hope next year's New Years is this much fun.  I started the day with lunch and a shopping trip with my friend Jamison.  I introduced him to B.D.'s Mongolian Grill at Easton (which he really liked) and then we went to Sur la Table and Williams Sonoma to look at the stuff we want in our fantasy kitchens.  After that I picked up a friend, Patrick, and we grabbed pizza and took it to Clay's house.  We hung out with his friends, ate, played games, and counted down to midnight.  It was perfect.  After that, well, that's all a bit of a blur (that's not to say that I was drunk, cause I didn't have a drop).  I mostly mean it was late and I was tired, so I won't mention it.  But I had a great time, particularly with Patrick, and I hope he did too.  Anyway, I wanted to start the new year (2011, I have to get used to that) with a movie about New Year's Eve and also one that's a bit on the spooky side.  It's got one of America's favorite scream queens and features a plot right out of Agatha Christie.  And, it takes place on a train...and who doesn't love trains?  So all aboard for an old-fashioned 80s slasher romp as we take a ride on the Terror Train.

It is New Year's Eve and the members of Sigma Phi, a pre-med fraternity, are holding a costume party on a train headed across snowy terrain.  However, the situation is not without drama.  Alaina Maxwell is already upset with her boyfriend for not telling her that the host was Doc Manley, the group's prank leader.  She and Doc have been on bad terms since a prank went wrong the year before.  It seems that Doc convinced Alaina to seduce Kenny Hampson, a nerd, and then they pulled a switcheroo on him, having him feel up a corpse instead of Alaina.  Kenny went mad after that and had to be hospitalized.  This drama isn't the worst of their troubles however.  Someone else is on the train.  Someone who is killing off the members of Sigma Phi who were involved in the prank and then using their costumes to get close to other potential victims.  There are several suspects.  Doc, who's knack for pranks may have gone too far, the magician on board, who is mysterious, or perhaps it is Kenny, back for revenge.  Whoever the killer is, they plan to save Alaina for last, which means she will have to fight for her life to survive.

Terror Train is one of those post-Halloween slashers that featured Jamie Lee Curtis and that are considered to be not very good.  I, however, enjoyed the movie for what it was.  A simple slasher movie with a semi-clever premise.  Isolate the kids on a moving train, so that they cannot escape danger but so they also stay mobile, and have them in costumes so that the killer can always be something new.  There are also several good red herrings and twists which help keep the film exciting.  It helps the film seem like an Agatha Christie mystery, which helps to elevate it above the bottom of the barrel films of the time.  Sure, its full of cliche situations and stock characters, but something about the dark train corridors and the ferocity of the killer just makes the whole thing really scary to me.  Jamie Lee also shines in the role of Alaina, giving the character a sense of raw smarts and vulnerability.  Also a surprise is magician David Copperfield who plays the sexy magician who hits on Alaina and whom we aren't sure if he is a danger at all.  He acts well, and is a nice novelty for the film.  The film also isn't too gory, so the squeamish should be able to enjoy it...though it's still R rated for a reason. If you want a good spooky story, you could really enjoy this one.  Go ahead and try it out and if you don't like it, you won't be the first.