Monday, January 30, 2012

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE


(October 1963, U.S.)

If DR. NO (1962) was the opportunity for the brand new James Bond film franchise to get its feet wet, then the second one, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, was the film that solidified many of the Bond elements and standards we've come to love and expect, including the pre-title opening white circle accompanied with the traditional opening theme, percussive themed "007" action music by John Barry, "Q" branch equipment as well as the characters of "Q" himself and Ernst Stavro Blofeld (identified only as "Number #1 here). This film is also one of the few (aside from QUANTUM OF SOLACE) that serves mildly as a direct sequel from its preceeding film. Listen carefully for the mention of Dr. No's name, Bond's previous trip to Jamacia and a very brief return of Sylvia Trench's character.

Although a lot more low key than many "high octane" Bond films, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE is based on the 1957 novel of the same name by Ian Fleming. In this story, Bond is sent to assist in the defection of Soviet consulate clerk Tatiana Romanova (played by Daniela Bianchi) in Turkey, where SPECTRE plans to avenge Bond's killing of Dr. No. Along the way, he must do battle with ex-SMERSH operative and SPECTRE Number #3 Rosa Klebb (played by Lotte Lenya) in a role that, frankly, has come to define the true meaning of "DYKE" in my book (sorry for the very un-PC word there, but just take a look at the character and tell me you don't agree with me. The truth is an ugly and un-PC thing sometimes) and Red Grant, a cunning SPECTRE assassin and one of the most devious enemies Bond has ever faced.

Now speaking of Red Grant, let me get into that character for a moment. Over the course of my childhood in the 1970s and 1980s, I got to know actor Robert Shaw (not personally) a bit in films like THE STING (1973), JAWS (1975), BLACK SUNDAY (1977) and THE DEEP (1977). There is an irresistable intensity and seriousness about him that brings out unforgetable performances in everything he's done. As Grant, though, his dialogue is minimal. In this role, it's his physical presence, his body language and almost creepy silence that makes him a deadly character. Bond history will often cite secondary evil characters as Oddjob (GOLDFINGER) and JAWS (THE SPY WHO LOVED ME and MOONRAKER) as the more memorable ones. But in my book, it's Robert Shaw as Red Grant that gets my vote. As a trademark Bond girl, Daniela Bianchi is beautiful and sexy, but I'm afraid that's about it. Her character is almost pointless except to accompany our hero along the adventure. In other words, she's not the worst Bond girl (Denise Richards still holds that title!), but she's hell and gone from being the best, either.

By the way, the next time I discuss a Bond film, it'll be a double-feature post, so to say. Can you guess what they'll be?

Favorite line or dialogue:

Tatiana Romanova: "The mechanism is...oh James, James...will you make love to me all the time in England?"
James Bond: "Day and night. Go on about the mechanism."

Sunday, January 29, 2012

FROM HERE TO ETERNITY


(August 1953, U.S.)

Some time ago, I gave you my own classifications of war films as being divided into either combat films or war dramas. Every once in a while, though, you'd get a film that combines a touch of both. FROM HERE TO ETERNITY is primarily a war drama, but you do get a little taste of combat in the end. The story deals with the troubles of soldiers and the women in their lives stationed on Hawaii in the months leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

Even if you've never seen or even heard of this film, you've very likely seen the iconic image of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr making out on the beach as a wave breaks over their bodies. Take a look...



I point this out because one of the first elements of FROM HERE TO ETERNITY that captures the eyes is the crisp breathtaking black and white cinematography of the beaches of Hawaii. It's also an intruiging point to know from the beginning that this is a film that takes place in Hawaii in 1941. You don't have to be a genius to how it's all going to turn out in the end. As a viewer, you can't help but take a slightly higher interest in the outcome of the lives of characters that are destined to become a part of world history. Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt (played by Montgomery Clift) is a good man and a good soldier who only wants to do his American duty and avoid the boxing ring due to a past accident, despite the ongoing pressure he's getting from fellow soldiers to be a part of the Army's boxing team. He's a man that's also struggling to love Lorene (played by Donna Reed), an employee at a gentlemen's club, despite his daily anguish and her desire NOT to end up as a soldier's wife. First Sergeant Milton Warden (played by Lancaster) is a man with very much in common with Prewitt, as he, too, struggles with his own pressures as a soldier and his conflict with being in love with his commanding officer's wife Karen (played by Kerr). Life in the military CAN be a bitch, can't it!

The inevitable attack on Pearl Harbor at the end is brief, but filmed with both on location action and with stock footage of the real attack itself and it's explosive aftermath. It's not a film that ends with heroes, but serves rather to remind us that the rather "petty" issues of these men and women that we've been watching for the past two hours have now become virtually non-existent...for the country is now at war and all must come together to fight our enemies. Many will live and many will die, but we already know that America triumphed!

FROM HERE TO ETERNITY won the Oscar for best picture of 1953.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Karen Holmes: "Come back here, Sergeant. I'll tell you the story; you can take it back to the barracks with you. I'd only been married to Dana two years when I found out he was cheating. And by that time I was pregnant. I thought I had something to hope for. I was almost happy the night the pains began. I remember Dana was going to an officers' conference. I told him to get home early, to bring the doctor with him. And maybe he would have...if his "conference" hadn't been with a hat-check girl! He was drunk when he came in at five AM. I was lying on the floor. I begged him to go for the doctor, but he fell on the couch and passed out. The baby was born about an hour later. Of course it was dead. It was a boy. But they worked over me at the hospital, they fixed me up fine, they even took my appendix out - they threw that in free."

Saturday, January 28, 2012

FROM DUSK TILL DAWN


(January 1996, U.S.)

A vampire horror film with the dialogue and wit right out of PULP FICTION? How could that be possible? Vampire films are usually badly acted trash with roman numerals in the title. The answer is very simple, my friends - Quentin Fuckin' Tarantino, that's how! It's actually almost a shame that the film was billed as a vampire adventure from the time of its release because much like Hitchcock's PSYCHO (1960), it's a film that's starts out one way and then shifts gears entirely into a totally different direction. Imagine the shock and surprise audiences with wild imaginations would have experienced if they walked in expecting a heist and getaway film and then ended up with fucking vampires?

Now let me start by saying that I never watched an episode of TV's ER in my life. So FROM DUSK TILL DAWN was really my first exposure to George Clooney, and I have to say, I was absolutely blown away by what a fast talking, sharp shooting, badass criminal motherfucker he was. And speaking as a very self-confident heterosexual make, I can understand why women all over the world wanted to drop their panties for this guy.

So here's how it goes - two brothers Seth (played by Clooney) and Richie Gecko (played by Quentin Tarantino) are wanted by the FBI and Texas police for a bank robbery that has left several people dead. They're heading for the Mexican border, where a contact named Carlos has arranged a safehouse for them. Along the way they stop at a motel and it's revealed that they'd been keeping a female bank teller in their car trunk as hostage. Unfortunately, she doesn't last long because Richie has this nastly tendancy toward rape and violent homicide. Their "plan B" now to get across the border is to kidnap a father, his two teenage kids and their RV. Getting across the border is actually easy and almost immaterial compared with what's going to happen to them when they reach a place called "The Titty Twister" (my kinda place!), open from dusk till dawn.

By the way, let me interrupt for a moment by saying that like Peter Sellers in DR. STRANGELOVE (1964), Cheech Marin plays three different roles in this film. None better, though, than the the doorman Chet Pussy. His welcome speech to the world of pussy that's inside the strip club is one of the funniest things I've ever listened to; worth the price of the movie ticket alone.

So, back in the club, things are getting sexy, crazy and very tense, and that's BEFORE we learn that we're in a club belonging to vampires who have a history of feeding on truckers and bikers for years. But like any other vampire flick, you also have your vampire fighters who ultimately end up being real grande heroes. So Seth, the previous badass criminal motherfucker, is now our biggest hero with a gun and a wooden stake. Vampires die (explode and melt, actually), good guy (and girl) live and all will be right with the world when the evil bank robber gets away and rides off into the sunset with his stolen money. Yes, people, there's nothing like a big beautiful Hollywood ending to put a smile on your face!

Let me reitterate that while this is a vampire film in all its silly traditional sense, it's also primarily a dialogue film, which is what ultimately holds my attention most. Sure, any "twilight" tweenie can be a vampire and any "Buffy" type slut can slay them. But when George Clooney is shooting off his mouth at a constant rate with dialogue written by Quentin Tarantino...that my friends, is a fucking vampire movie!!!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Carlos: "What were they, psychos or...?"
Seth: "They look like psychos? Is that what they looked like? They were vampires! Psychos do not explode when sunlight hits 'em! I don't give a fuck how crazy they are!"

Thursday, January 26, 2012

FRIED GREEN TOMATOES


(December 1991, U.S.)

FRIED GREEN TOMATOES is one of those dramas that I find necessary to revisit every once in a while to remind myself of a time when major studios like Universal were still releasing Oscar-worthy films that didn't involve special effects or any computer generated bullshit. It's also happens to be a damn good movie. It tells the story of a Depression-era friendship between two women, Ruth (played by Mary Louise Parker) and Idgie (played by Mary Stuart Masterson), and a 1980's friendship between Evelyn (played by Kathy Bates), a middle-aged housewife, and Ninny (played by Jessica Tandy), an elderly woman who knew Ruth and Idgie when they were young. The centerpiece and parallel story concerns the murder of Ruth's abusive husband and the accusations that follow. And as a predictable Hollywood move, the lesbian content from the original novel is generally removed. Still, if you're paying close enough attention and reading between the lines, you can clearly see the "intent", no matter how ambiguous.

The film's subplot concerns Evelyn's dissatisfaction with her marriage and her life, her growing confidence, and her developing friendship with Ninny. The narrative switches several times between Ninny's story, which is set between World War I and World War II, and Evelyn's life in 1980's Birmingham. Through Ninny's story of Ruth and Idgie, Evelyn manages to find her own sense of strength and self-worth. It's impressive and even fun to watch her finally takes charge of herself and even display anger that's necessary to combat everyday people who are rude and inconsiderate. The scene with the parking space is practically classic in that I'm sure we're all wanted to take some sort of action against assholes who take the space we were waiting for.

Two spoilers coming now: the final scene of FRIED GREEN TOMATOES is quite intruiging when Evelyn and Ninny pass Ruth's grave (she died young of cancer), freshly adorned with a jar of honey and honeycomb and a card which reads " I will always Love You. The Bee Charmer," Ruth's old nickname for Idgie. It becomes apparent that Ninny WAS Idgie and has been telling the tale of her own life the entire time. It's a revelation that could be called predictable, but it puts an irresistable smile on your face, nonetheless.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Evelyn Couch: "Excuse me, I was waiting for that spot."
Girl #1: "Face it, lady, we're younger and faster!"
(Evelyn gets angry and rear-ends the girl's car six times)
Girl #1: "What are you DOING?"!?
Girl #2: "Are you CRAZY!?"
Evelyn: "Face it, girls, I'm older and I have more insurance."

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980)


(May 1980, U.S.)

Sometimes in life, we choose to perceive things (and movies) from our own personal perspective as opposed how they actually happened. That being the case, I choose to own and remember the original FRIDAY THE 13TH as a stand-alone horror film released at a time when horror films were being released in droves and at a time when, just like HALLOWEEN (1978), using the name of an actual day of the year that summons up dread would likely mean box office gold. So people, as far as I'm concerned, Jason Voorhees was never the primary antagonist of the movie, there never was a hockey mask, Jason never was in 3D, Jason never ended up in outer space (???) and there never was a crossover with Freddy Kruger. So while you're reading this post, try to open your mind a bit and pretend that this original horror film never eroded into an out-of-control franchise that, in my opinion, defines the horrors of overkill.

As storyline goes, FRIDAY THE 13TH is not the most original thing ever written. The film concerns a group of teenagers who are murdered one-by-one by a mysterious killer while attempting to re-open the abandoned summer Camp Crystal Lake. The key to the creepiness of this film lies in the shadows of the deep, dark woods, the stories and history of the Camp Crystal Lake curse and (as much as I hate to admit it), that kooky "Ch-ch-ch-ha-ha-ha!" musical soundtrack. There's also a particular creepiness in the scene where one of the would-be counselors hears a child-like voice calling "Help me!" from the woods and then she inevitably meets her doom at the archery range during a harsh rain storm. Poor Brenda!

There's something in film script writing known as "set up" and "pay off". In the case of this film, there's a scene in the beginning where a common truck driver warns a young girl about Camp Crystal Lake and very casually mentions a boy drowing in 1957. It's mention very quickly and the first time viewer is very likely to dismiss it immediately. It's only later in the film when that very mild "set up" actually "pays off" when we learn that the boy who drowned in 1957 is the entire reason the murders are taking place by his psychotic, grieving mother. Yes, I have to admit that even I was surprised to learn that the killer was a woman the first time I ever saw FRIDAY THE 13TH. I've also enjoyed the ambiguity of little, demented and disfigured Jason rising out of the lake to take down the only survivor of the night's masacre. Did it really happen? Does Jason really live? Like I said before, this is how I choose to perceive things and not necessarily how they actually happened.

By the way, did you know that Camp Crystal Lake is supposed to be somewhere in New Jersey? As if that poor state didn't need ANOTHER reason to be mocked!

So there you have it people...if you can just choose to ignore all the hockey mask franchise bullshit for just a little while, you're likely to discover (or RE-discover) that the original 1980 version of FRIDAY THE 13TH is actually a worthwhile horror experience. Give it a try.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Alice: "The boy...is he dead, too?"
Officer Tierney: "Who?"
Alice: "The boy...Jason."
Tierney: "Jason?"
Alice: "In the lake, the one...the one who attacked me...the one who pulled me underneath the water."
Tierney: "Ma'am, we didn't find any boy."
Alice: "But...then he's still there."

Yes, and that's where Jason should've stayed!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

FRENCH CONNECTION, THE


(October 1971, U.S.)

To put it simply and plainly, William Friedkin's THE FRENCH CONNECTION is, has always been, and will continue to be my all-time favorite crime thriller. Especially today, when our society has become so pathetically concerned with being so verbally politically correct and watching what we say around others, it's almost refreshing to return to a character like Jimmy 'Popeye' Doyle, a Brooklyn narcotics detective who is, in my opinion, exactly what every movie cop should be; a though, no-nonsense racist pig!

Now, you may have heard me tell you what a shithole I think Brooklyn is. Well, this is 1971, and as you watch the movie, it's difficult to imagine Brooklyn (and ALL of New York City, for that matter) to be any more ridden with crime and filth than it does at this time. But a hard edge thriller of this sorts would likely not work today in a city that has gotten "cleaned up" over the last two decades. If you ever lived in or grew up around Manhattan or Brooklyn, it can be quite a visual trip looking at the city as it appeared forty years ago, especially if you happen to catch a glimpse of one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center still under construction.

The film revolves around the smuggling of narcotics between Marseilles, France and New York City. In New York, detectives Doyle (played by Gene Hackman) and Buddy 'Cloudy' Russo (played by the great Roy Scheider) are the ones who almost accidentally stumble upon a possible major narcotics score that going to come into New York in the next few days and proceed to investigate "the French connection" in the case. Doyle becomes obssessed with not only breaking the case, but also catching Alain Charnier (played by Fernando Rey), the French criminal responsible for smuggling the heroin from France to the United States. Much of the film serves as a game of cat-and-mouse between cops and criminals and it's impossible not to become caught up in every step of the action, especially with the accompanying soundtrack. Doyle is a good cop but the man hates, too; hates criminals, hates the FBI and hates the rich. Watch carefully, the contempt on his face as he stands outside in the brutal and depressing New York cold weather staking out two criminals across the street enjoying a luxurious lunch at a fancy French restaurant while he feasts on a mere slice of pizza and some very bad coffee.

Getting back to the action, let's talk about that incredible car chase for a moment. With all due respect to Steve McQueen in BULLIT (1968), it's an almost psychotic Doyle chasing an elevated subway train through the streets of Brooklyn that has and always will get my personal award for best car chase scene in a film EVER! If you've seen this, then you know exactly what I'm talking about. You'll also know that this sequence was filmed on location with a real car and a real driver. Yes, it was all real. No computer or special effects bullshit here!

THE FRENCH CONNECTION is not only a film I enjoy revisiting when I want the best damn crime thriller ever made, but also a rather bizarre nostolgic look back at New York City and how it used to look , good or bad. It's also a story that I like to leave ambiguous in my own mind when Charnier gets away at the end. In other words, I choose to ignore the fact that there was a FRENCH CONNECTION II four years later.

THE FRENCH CONNECTION won the Oscar for best picture of 1971. It was also the first R-rated film to do so since the introduction of the MPAA film rating system.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Jimmy: "You dumb guinea."
Buddy: "How the hell was I supposed to know he had a knife?"
Jimmy: "Never trust a nigger."
Buddy: "He could have been white."
Jimmy: "Never trust anyone!"

See what I mean? Very "un-PC" dialogue, but it still works for the character and the setting.

FRANKENSTEIN


(November 1931, U.S.)

In 1931, Frank Whale's film version of Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN was indeed the horror show of the ages. The film begins with actor Edward Van Sloan stepping from behind a curtain and delivering a "friendly warning" before the opening credits:

"How do you do. We are about to unfold the story of Frankenstein, a man of science who sought to create a man after his own image without reckoning upon God. It is one of the strangest tales ever told. It deals with the two great mysteries of creation – life and death. I think it will thrill you. It may shock you. It might even – horrify you. So if any of you feel that you do not care to subject your nerves to such a strain, now's your chance to – uh, well, we warned you."

Imagine sitting in the movie theater in 1931 and hearing those piercing words and wondering in frightening anticipation what was to come on the screen. Imagine sitting there and seeing Boris Karloff in that scary makeup and flat head staring you in the face for the first time and feeling the shivers travel up and down your spine. It's probably difficult to do given the extremes that horror films have gone to over the decades, but on the other hand, if you're sitting in a dark living room and watching a real sharp DVD copy of FRANKENSTEIN, you just might feel an ounce of those shivers I was talking about, even in this modern day and age.

The use of one's open mind and imagination is key not only in the horror of Karloff's appearance, but also in the premise of an eccentric scientist taking the laws of life, death man and God into his own hands as he attempts to create his own human being in his own image by stealing dead body parts from frest graves and brains from medical college classrooms. It's inevitable that the creation will ultimately turn on his creator, as well as surrounding society itself. Many film scholars will note that the creature is supposed to be a sympathetic character, but I've always found that a difficult premise to accept when witnessing the horror and havoc the monster causes throught the village. Even when he's being hunted by the villagers and it appears that he will burn to death in the windmill inferno, his ear-piercing harsh screams are still frightening and one can't help but feel that the creature MUST die.

If you're not already aware of this, the film has an interesting history of censorship issues regarding the scene in which the monster throws the little girl into the lake and accidentaly drowns her. Upon it original 1931 release, the second part of this scene was cut by state censorship boards in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and New York. Those states also objected to a line they considere blasphemous, during Dr. Henry Frankenstein's exuberance when he first leans that his creature is alive and openly declares himself on par with the likes and powers of God himself. Those sequences were tragically cut from the film over the years but thankfully, over additional time, those points of controversay have been restored to the film's original intent, as they should be.

FRANKENSTEIN may not have been the very first of the legendary Universal Studios monster movies (DRACULA was), but it is, by far, the best of all that have ever been made, in my opinion. It's a trademark of true classic horror and a remainder to my own personal memories of all those late night horror movie TV presentations like "Fright Night" and "Chiller Theater". And by the way, when exactly did the name lf "Frankenstein" eventually pertain to the monster himself when its original intention was for that of the doctor himself? When did that happen?

Favorite line or dialogue:

Henry Frankenstein: "Look! It's moving. It's alive. It's alive...it's alive, it's moving, it's alive, it's alive, it's alive, it's alive, IT'S ALIVE!"
Victor Moritz: "Henry, in the name of God!"
Henry: "Oh, in the name of God! Now I know what it feels like to be God!"

FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL


(March 1994, U.S.)

What exactly is it about British comedy in that all anyone has to do is merely say something, anything, and somehow there's a degree of wit to it that will have me laughing before I can even think about what's really so funny about it? Really, sometimes if I really want to just laugh, I'll watch a standup DVD by Eddie Izzard or any number of episodes of FAWLTY TOWERS or MONTY PYTHON'S FLYING CIRCUS. Perhaps, though, that's just me.

FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL follows the adventures of a group of friends through the eyes of Charles (played by Hugh Grant), a debonair but faux pas-prone Englishman, who is just smitten with Carrie, an attractive American (played Andie MacDowell), who Charles repeatedly meets at four weddings and at a funeral (get it?). They hit it off almost immediately and end up sleeping together and saying goodbye faster than you can say, "I cheated on Elizabeth Hurley!" What Charles doesn't count on is being invited to Carrie's own wedding in Scotland. He later tries to confess his inevitable love to her and hints that he would like to have a relationship with her. However, he says it rather lamely, and the confession obviously comes too late. Unfortunately, it's at her wedding that one of the group of friends has a heart attack and dies (hence the funeral).

Now the interesting twist here is that the final wedding turns out to be Charles' own, but it appears he's only marrying out of convenience and also because it appears he's lost Carrie. Not so. She actually shows up at the wedding and lets Charles know her marriage didn't last. Uh-oh! What's poor Charlie gonna do now on the day of his wedding? The answer, in case you haven't seen this film, lies in your own preference of DVD rental.

FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL is sly and delightful and directed with a very light-hearted enchantment. Hugh Grant's performance gives off what can only be described as an endearing awkwardness that you can't help but laugh at. Like I said, there's just something about those British.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Charles: "Ehm, look. Sorry, sorry. I just, ehm, well, this is a very stupid question and...particularly in view of our recent shopping excursion, but I just wondered, by any chance, ehm, eh, I mean obviously not because I guess I've only slept with nine people, but, but I, I just wondered...ehh. I really feel, ehh, in short, to recap it slightly in a clearer version, eh, the words of David Cassidy in fact, eh, while he was still with the Partridge family, eh, "I think I love you," and eh, I, I just wondered by any chance you wouldn't like to...eh...eh...no, no, no of course not...I'm an idiot, he's not...excellent, excellent, fantastic, eh, I was gonna say lovely to see you, sorry to disturb...better get on..."

Saturday, January 21, 2012

42ND STREET


(February 1933, U.S.)

There is a particular art house movie theater in Greenwich Village, New York City called the Film Forum that I have frequented from time to time whenever I wanted to see a vintage revival on screen. Back in 2009, when we were knee-deep in our economic recession, the theater screened a series of films and double features under the theme of "Depression Era" films. One of these double features was the original version of KING KONG (1933) and...you guessed it...42ND STREET. By way of story, the two of them obviously have nothing to do with each other, except the locale of New York City during the time of the Depression when economic struggle of the comman citizen was at it's highest in history. 42ND STREET, for it's era, has all the glamour and the glitz of the magic of Broadway, but also manages to stress the idea that America is in a Depression and that stage performers, like the common citizen, are struggling to work and survive, as well.

Now you've heard me say more than once that I generally don't like musicals, and I still don't. However, when you're dealing with a story about a stage production, it's a story where song and dance go hand-in-hand with the exhausting daily grind of bringing a new musical stage show to life. In other words, actors and actresses are not just breaking out into song and dance like some bad episode of GLEE. The music and dancing is part of the show and therefore an essential part of the working film. To be perfectly honest, though, the songs are incredibly dated and corny and I find most of the dancing that takes place to be rather mechanical looking. On the other hand, it's the intense drama of the dancers and the show's director that keeps your attention going throughout the film.

In noting the era of the early 1930s when this film takes place, I have to point out that the characters we see behind the production are absolutely NOTHING like the stereotypical effeminate gay men you'd likely see on screen today. The director Julian Marsh (played by Warren Baxter), much like Roy Scheider in ALL THAT JAZZ (1979) is harsh and demanding but also the best at what he does. And even though it's a era of movie innocence, you can't help but get the feeling he'd sleep with every dancer in the chorus if he could. The show's assistants are not what you'd expect, either. They actually dress and talk like Prohibition gangsters rather than traditional Broadway lyricists and choreographers. Go figure.

One of the particularly interesting things I have to also note about 42ND STREET is watching its original trailer. This was a film that was released only a few years after talking pictures ("Talkies") were all the new rage. It was being billed as a spectacularly new screen experience. Yes, for its era, it's quite possible 42ND STREET was one of the earliest screen blockbusters out there...and it WASN'T in 3D!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Andy: "How's the turnout, Mac?"
Mac: "About fifty-fifty. Half are dumb and the other half are dumber!"

Thursday, January 19, 2012

48 HRS.


(December 1982, U.S.)

I haven't seen Eddie Murphy's last movie TOWER HEIST yet. I understand it wasn't that great, but I can certainly appreciate why people were looking forward to it with such anticipation. Finally, after two decades, people were going to see a return to screen of the rude Eddie, the crude Eddie, and the vulgar Eddie we all first saw on screen with Nick Nolte in Walter Hill's 48 HRS.; a film often credited as being the first "buddy cop" film that would inevitably spawn a genre throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

One of the first things I have to say about this film is that I think it's the only one I've ever seen that makes the city of San Francisco look like as much of a shithole as Los Angeles or New York City. This is a precedent with me because just about every film I've ever seen that took place in San Francisco depicted the "city by the bay" with the beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge and what not. But this is seedy crime film with two psychotic cop killers on the loose being hunted down by tough, grungy cop Jack Cates (Nolte) and convicted criminal Reggie Hammond (Murphy), so I guess nothing about the film is supposed to be pretty. Truth be told, in my opinion, as funny as Eddie Murphy can be in the right role, I don't consider 48 HRS. one of the funniest films I've ever seen, but rather one of the best and toughest police/crime films I've ever seen. The violence is pretty much what you'd expect and in all the right places. The character of Albert Ganz (played by James Remar) is a frightening one as you watch him freely killing innocent people and assorted cops with the greatest of pleasurable ease. That sort of violent character only makes for a greater viewing pleasure when he finally goes down at the hands of the tough cop.

Now here's a couple of personal notes about 48 HRS. and me. It was one of the few R-rated movies I'd seen, even at the tender age of fifteen and I managed to see it when attending a screening of GANDHI (1982) at a multiplex with my parents. I'd already seen GANDHI before on a high school class trip, so somewhere during its progress, I whispered to my father that I was going to walk into another theater and see 48 HRS. My father was so engrossed with GANDHI that he barely paid attention to me and gave me the okay. When 48 HRS. was over, I went back to my parents where GANDHI still had some time to go. Sometimes a long epic can be your best friend when you want to see something that's not necessarily for kids. Another thing to know is that it was the first time I'd ever heard "Roxanne" by The Police. That's right, I heard Eddie Murphy sing it before I heard Sting sing it! How sad is that?? Finally, it was the first time I'd ever seen Annette O'Toole and she looked incredibly hot. It's safe to say I had a crush on her for some time. At least, until I saw her in SUPERMAN III (1983). Then the crush went away.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Reggie Hammond: "And I want the rest of you cowboys to know somethin'...there's a new sheriff in town...and his name is Reggie Hammond! Y'all be cool! Right on!"

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

1408


(June 2007, U.S.)

Stephen King has taken us to the haunted hotel before. I don't even have to tell you the title because you already know. In 1408, though, the terror is centered on just one particular room. The rest of the ficticious Dolphin Hotel in New York City functions quite normally. John Cusack's character, Mike Enslin, a hack writer of supposedly haunted places to stay in America, says something rather thought-provoking in the film and it goes something like this..."Hotels are a naturally creepy place...just think, how many people have slept in that bed before you? How many of them were sick? How many...died?". Yes, that's something you may not be thinking about the next time you check into the nieghborhood Marriot, but it certainly makes a more than valid point. Just who was in that room before you and what were they doing??

We've all been through the classic haunting tale before, and some of them in their own unique way, are very creepy to watch. The one cliche element that I've never gotten tired of, though, is the classic warning that the hero of our story should "stay away from that place". Hotel manager Gerold Olin (played by Samuel L. Jackson) maintains a very professional charm as he repeatedly warns (and begs) Mike Enslin NOT to stay in room 1408. Besides the classic warning of those who have died in that room before (56 deaths total!), he also maintains the fact that no guest has ever lasted more than an hour in that room. The room seems to know that, too, because one of the first things it does to spook Mike out is to set the room digital clock to sixty minutes and then proceeds to count down. The room is filled with its predictable cliche of scary jolts and screams. Cliche or not, though, they can get to you if you open up your imagination well enough. What I find a particularly interesting twist is the fact that Mike is constantly recording what happens around him into his little micro-cassette recorder. It's more than simple narration of events. You actually get to experience his fear as it slowly progress during what is supposed to be only one hour of his life. We're not only experiencing the haunting of a hotel room, but also the journey into the slow deterioration of Mike's mind and his sanity. Even when we think Mike has come out of it okay and that the whole thing may have been a harsh halucination as a result of a surfing accident, it shocking to see that we as the viewer have been deceived, perhaps more than once.

Theatrically-released Stephen King films have always been a hit and miss thing, in my opinion. For every smash hit like CARRIE (1976), THE SHINING (1980) and MISERY (1990), you have to also put up with duds like CUJO (1983), FIRESTARTER (1984) and MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE (1986). 1408, I can gladly say, is one of those little Stephen King gems that gets right to the fear and terror of the classic haunting story. What's not to love abouth that, right?

Favorite line or dialogue:

Mike Enslin: "The room's gotta be filthy. I mean, the sheets haven't been changed in...what, eleven years?"
Gerald Olin: "No, no, no. We're very professional here. 1408 gets a light turn once a month. I supervise, the maids work in pairs. We treat the room as if it's a chamber filled with poison gas. We only stay ten minutes and I insist the door remain open. But still...a few years ago a young maid from El Salvador found herself locked in the bathroom. She was only there for a few moments, but when we pulled her out she was..."
Mike: "She was dead?"
Gerald: "No. Blind. She had taken a pair of scissors and gouged her eyes out. She was laughing hysterically."

Monday, January 16, 2012

FOUR SEASONS, THE


(May 1981, U.S.)

In 1981, even at the age of fourteen, I already had an appreciation for so-called "slice of life" movies about grown ups. In other words, I was not the type who would have gone for "Twilight" movies or anything of the sort. But even during a summer that was dominated by Superman, James Bond and a new guy named Indiana Jones, the prospect of seeing a comedy with Carol Burnett and that funny guy from TV's M.A.S.H. seemed attractive enough.

The story of THE FOUR SEASONS is a very simple one revolving around three married couples who take vacations together during each of the seasons. After this pattern has been established, Nick (played by Len Cariou) leaves his annoying wife of twenty-one years for a much younger and sexier woman, Ginny (played by Bess Armstrong). He then proceeds to bring Ginny on the usual vacation trips, causing the other two couples to be uncomfortable, feeling as if they have betrayed the former wife who is now out of the picture. Alan Alda's character of Jack is rather the dominating one of the group who has a constant need to psycho-analyze every situation that takes place among the group, and frankly, the rest of the group have had enough of it and are ready to confront him with it. Nick (played by Jack Weston) is a constant neurotic who's irrational fear of death and a desire to be the foremost authority on everything from beans to the mating habits of the Newt is also an ongoing annoyance with the group.

Now, did you happen to notice that I was only speaking of the MEN here? That's no accident. The film itself only seems to focus on the quirky characteristics of the men in the group and the women are here only to serve as the "tag along" wives whose sole purposes are offer the cliche elements of maritial love and support. You see? It was already the 1980s, and clearly, women's roles in movies still had a very long way to go.

As I got older and continued to appreciate this film, I always thought it would be great to have very special friends in my life to take vacations with. I still do (I can very easily picutre myself jumping into the lake just to create a moment of laughter and insanity). However, as I've gotten older I've also gotten more impatient and more intolerant and this is NOT a great combination when traveling and spending a good deal of time with other people. As you may well know, it's very often the people you spend time with the most and whom you love the most that will piss you off beyond belief.

Now here's a rather amusing story to go witht his film. When I was a kid, my parents had rather an unreasonably restrictive attitute toward how often I went to the movies in any given time period. During a summer when I was just waiting in vain for RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK to finally come to the local movie theater in Westhampton Beach, Long Island, I ended up seeing a number of "filler" movies like HISTORY OF THE WORLD-PART I, THE CANNONBALL RUN and THE FOUR SEASONS. While I did enjoy THE FOUR SEASONS, I'm forced to admit that the only real reason I wanted to see it was because it was an opportunity to see a movie with the girl next door, whom I'll confess I had a lustful attraction to. So guess what happened after that? You guessed it! RAIDERS finally came to town and my parents wouldn't take me to see it because they'd concluded that I'd already been to the movies too many times that summer. I would have to wait until Spring 1982 to see RAIDERS upon its re-release. You see what happens when you think with your dick instead of your head, even at the age of fourteen??

Favorite line or dialogue:

Danny Zimmer: "Well, I don't understand how you can hurt someone as guileless and vulnerable as Ginny."
Claudia Zimmer: "She sure took on a lot of mystical qualities once you saw her swimming naked."
Danny: "How can you say that?"
Claudia: "I say what I think."
Danny: "Well, maybe that's the problem! Why do you always say what you think? I mean, do you think your thoughts should just fall down from your brain onto your tongue like a gumball machine?"
Claudia: "Danny, I'm not going to start watching what I think or what I feel! I'm Italian!"
Danny: "I know you're Italian! I don't want to hear anymore how you're Italian!"
(opens window and sticks his head out)
"Hey, out there! This woman is Italian!
(faces back to Claudia)
"You no longer have to announce your ethnic origin in this state! Everyone in Connecticut knows you're Italian! And when we cross the border, I'll take out an ad in the New York Times!"

Saturday, January 14, 2012

FOUNTAINHEAD, THE


I'm an architect (or at least I play one in real life). You know what this means? This means that almost by law, I was required to read Ayn Rand's THE FOUNTAINHEAD, and an easy read, it's not. The book is at at least three inches thick and its philosophies take time and patience to absorb. However, once you've completed the novel, it's impossible not to walk away re-evaluating your own sense of values, even if you're not an architect.

At it's heart, THE FOUNTAINHEAD is the story of architect Howard Roark who must stand alone against the rest of the world in order to maintain his own personal sense of values, standards and self-worth. But more than that, THE FOUNTAINHEAD challanges the reader (and the film viewer) on the philosophy of selfishness and questions the easy willingness to compromise their ideals, resulting in potential greatness being dragged down by the "mob" mentality of other human beings to the level of everyday mediocrity. It also grants a moral sanction for people to believe in themselves, their dreams and their aspirations without asking anyone's permission, free of committees, collective thinking or the perceived need to seek approval from others. And what happens when our ideas and work are deliberately compromised or altered by the ignorant power of others? Do we have the right to take our own work back and completely destroy it, if need be? Howard Roark believes he does when a building he designed by his own mind and hand is erected as a completely society-conforming piece of mediocrity. He literally destroys the building before it can be completed and then stands trial for his crime (was it a crime?) with the entire city seemingly against him, calling for his blood. I won't tell you how it all turns out. That's up to you.

All of that is pretty deep and thought-provoking, indeed. One can only try to imagine the challenge Warner Brothers faced in trying to bring this epic novel to screen and maintain a level of cinematic entertainment as well as it's serious topics. Gary Cooper as Howard Roark pulls the character off just about as well as any other movie star from the 1940s might have. Patricia Neal as Domonique Francon is solid, but I can't help but wonder what Barbara Stanwick might have been like in the role, whom I understand campaigned for it almost as soon as the book was published. As a classic black and white version which consolidates the entire novel in just under two hours, it works as well as can be expected for movie making during the golden age of cinema. However, I dare say THE FOUNTAINHEAD is one of those rare stories that could use a complete make-over in the form of a week long television mini-series.

All that having been said, I'm going to dive into a personal theory of my own regarding THE FOUNTAINHEAD and it's Hollywood film version. Follow me on this, okay...Ayn Rand wrote the film's screenplay based on her own work. Now bearing in mind the strong philosophies and convictions the author speaks of, it would have been safe to assume than Rand would have written a screenplay that faithfully adapted her own work without the burden of Hollywood changes and edits. However, as mentioned earlier, the film comes in at just under two hours, jumps through the storyline very quickly at times and manages to completely eliminate major characters and plot points. Do you all see what I'm leading up to?? If Rand truly believed in her own convictions and beliefs, then why did she seemingly sell herself out so easily to the pressures of Hollywood cuts and edits? Did she give in and sell her soul just like the rest of human kind or were her philosophies and convictions nothing but pure fiction from the beginning? I suppose that's a debatable argument that could go on for a long time, but it's a point I've never been able to shake since the first time I saw the film.

By the way, those of you who are fans of the legendary rock back RUSH will likely know that many of their song lyrics were inspired by the words of Ayn Rand. Consider the lyrics from just a few of their most popular songs...

- WITCH HUNT (from Moving Pictures): "They say there is strangeness to danger us in our theatres and bookstore shelves, that those who know what's best for us must rise and save us from ourselves".

- VITAL SIGNS (also from Moving Pictures): "Everybody got mixed feelings about the function and the form. Everybody got to deviate from the norm".

- SUBDIVISIONS (from Signals): "Opinions all provided, the future pre-decided, detached and subdivided in the mass production zone. Nowhere is the dreamer or the misfit so alone".

Man, I love that band!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Howard Roark: "I am an architect. I know what is to come by the principle on which it is built. We are approaching a world in which I cannot permit myself to live. My ideas are my property. They were taken from me by force, by breach of contract. No appeal was left to me. It was believed that my work belonged to others, to do with as they pleased. They had a claim upon me without my consent. That is was my duty to serve them without choice or reward. Now you know why I dynamited Cortlandt. I designed Cortlandt, I made it possible, I destroyed it. I agreed to design it for the purpose of seeing it built as I wished. That was the price I set for my work. I was not paid. My building was disfigured at the whim of others who took all the benefits of my work and gave me nothing in return. I came here to say that I do not recognize anyone's right to one minute of my life. Nor to any part of my energy, nor to any achievement of mine. No matter who makes the claim. It had to be said. The world is perishing from an orgy of self-sacrificing. I came here to be heard. In the name of every man of independence still left in the world. I wanted to state my terms. I do not care to work or live on any others. My terms are a man's right to exist for his own sake."

Cheers, Howard!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

FOR YOUR EYES ONLY


(June 1981, U.S.)

During my time as a film fan, I've come to classify James Bond films under three rather distinct personal categories. The first would be the "I love this Bond movie!" (GOLDFINGER, THUNDERBALL, MOONRAKER). The second would be the "It's not the best, but I still enjoy it (THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, OCTOPUSSY) and finally the third would be the "Man, this movie sucks!" (THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH, DIE ANOTHER DAY). So that in mind, I'd put the twelfth James Bond film FOR YOUR EYES ONLY in the second category. At least Roger Moore remains.

After going pretty much "jumping the shark" with MOONRAKER (1979) in the last installment, there was almost no choice but for the Bond franchise to start over and get back to the basics of reality. New director (John Glen), new musical composer (Bill Conti), new actor in a vague substitute role of "M" (because actor Bernard Lee was dead now) and no real high-tech gadgetry or weaponry that we'd seen twice now under Lewis Gilbert's direction. We also got to see Sheena Easton sing her popular title song during the opening credits; something that had never been done before. In short, FOR YOUR EYES ONLY was another James Bond "re-boot". I'm also of the opinion that the marketing department for this film knew exactly what it was doing when it pulled audiences into the movie theaters with perhaps the promise of strong sexual tones by designing a movie poster that featured a woman's fine, long legs and great ass! Hell, I was just fourteen years old in 1981 and the only real reason I wanted to see this film was because of that great poster (look at it!). MAD Magazine even titled its spoof on this film "FOR HER THIGHS ONLY". I'm not kidding! Look it up!

Interestingly, the film begins by finally putting the cap on an old issue in the franchise and that's James Bond's arch enemy, Ernst Stavro Blofeld; last seen in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971) but still not defeated. Though the man in the wheelchair is never officially identified as Blofeld, it seems pretty obvious to any real James Bond fan. The opening is exciting to watch and amusing to see how Blofeld finally meets his end. The rest of the film's plotline, in which Bond must stop a well-connected Greek businessman and intelligence informant from obtaining the Automatic Targeting Attack Communicator (ATAC), the system used by the Ministry of Defence to communicate with and co-ordinate the Royal Navy's fleet of Polaris submarines, is average storytellin, at best. If the bad guy gets hold of that thing, then the Royal's Navy's submarines could be ordered to destroy each other. Honestly, I think this premise (or something very close) has been done more than once in the Bond franchise and the story here is very formulaic; the typical beautiful Bond girl, the threat against the world, the frighteningly evil man in the spirit of "Oddjob" or "Jaws" and the resolution in the end that saves the day. In most cases the formula always works enough to keep you interest. However, FOR YOUR EYES ONLY sufferes greatly from a very unexciting, anti-climactic ending when the villian is only quietly defeated with a knife in his back. Even the mountain climbing sequence lacks it full potential due to the absense of music. I'm sure the film makers thought they were creating a sense of true tension with that move, but it just didn't work for me without the music.

But I can say there are enough exciting action sequences and good enough acting here (plus a GREAT movie poster!) to put FOR YOUR EYES ONLY in the second category I mentioned above, which in my opinion, is more than sufficient to put this James Bond film in my film collection.

The WORST line in the history of the James Bond franchise:

Blofeld: "Mr Bond! We can do a deal! I'll buy you a delicatessen! In stainless steel!"

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

FORREST GUMP


(July 1994, U.S.)

It's almost uncanny how we all fell in love with FORREST GUMP nearly two decades ago, although the story of the world seen through the eyes of a mere simpleton was not exectly new on the screen. Peter Sellers had done it fifteen years prior in BEING THERE (1979) and it was one of the best roles of his career. In Robert Zemeckis' film, though, the story depicts several decades in the life of Forrest Gump (played by the great Tom Hanks), a naive and slow-witted native of Alabama who witnesses, and in some cases influences, some of the defining events of the latter half of the 20th century. Intruiging, as well, are the extensive visual effects that were used to incorporate Hanks' character into actual archived historical footage and with actual historical figueres in order to develop scenes further. Take a look at a sample...



(Oh, yeah, and there was that whole box of chocolates thing).

Forrest Gump is, indeed, not a smart man. But this film shows that even the dumbest of people can have the simplest philosophies that will sustain them through their lives. In Forrest's case, his simplicity lies in that he always listens to his mama (played by Sally Field), he loves only his Jenny (played by Robin Wright), he maintains a neverending loyalty to his best friends Lt. Dan Daylor and "Bubba" (Gary Sinise and Mykelti Williamson) and he runs great distances to find his own personal meaning and purposes. I suppose if you're a true optimist of life (which I'm NOT!), that may be all you need to get by.

Regarding Forrest's love and loyalty to Jenny, while incredibly admirable, there are times when watching the film where I consider Forrest an absolute schmuck in that regard. After all, Jenny treats him like dirt and abandons him more than once in the film. Who would continue to love a girl like that?? Apparantly, only Forrest Gump would. It can be justified that it all pays off in the end as he finally wins her heart and becomes the father of the child she bore him (unknownst to him for years). And it's the child that ultimately becomes Forrest's destiny. Because, according to this film, no matter what we've done or where we've been in our lives, nothing is more important or rewarding than the joy of fatherhood. I suppose there's no argument in that.

There's one particular scene that has always stayed with me since first seeing this film. After Jenny has died and Forrest has walked away from her headstone, he sees a flock of birds flying overhead, symbolic of how when Forrest and Jenny were children she prayed to be turned into a bird so she could "fly far, far away" from her troubled life. Yes, symbolism can be very corny, but it can also touch the heart if you let it.

FORREST GUMP won the Oscar for best picture of 1994. And as much as I love the film, and will continue to love it, I've always believed that PULP FICTION is the film that SHOULD have won. Oh, well.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Forrest Gump: "Will you marry me? I'd make a good husband?"
Jenny Curran: "You would, Forrest."
Forrest: "But you won't marry me."
Jenny: "You don't wanna marry me."
Forrest: "Why don't you love me, Jenny? I'm not a smart man...but I know what lovie is."

Monday, January 9, 2012

FORBIDDEN PLANET


(April 1956, U.S.)

FORBIDDEN PLANET is one of those incredibly dated films that I can only close my eyes and try to imagine what it must have been like to be kid in 1956 seeing its science fiction wonders for the first time on screen in "Cinemascope" at a Saturday matinee movie theater. Incredibly dated, indeed, as compared to the likes of everything we've ever seen on the big screen since Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. It should also be noted to all fans of the original STAR TREK who have never seen this film, that FORBIDDEN PLANET contains many of the elements that would eventually create the mega-TV hit; a starship cruiser with a witty captain and his loyal crew exploring strange new worlds and boldly going where no man has gone before. Yes, all you "Trekkies", before STAR TREK ever went on the air, there was FORBIDDEN PLANET!

From the moment the crew of the United Planets Cruiser C57-D arrives at the planet Altair IV, they're warned by Doctor Morbius (played by Walter Pigeon) to stay away, as their is some sort of unknown planetary force that could easily destroy them all. But Commander John J. Adams (played by Leslie Neilson, before he became the funny poster boy for all those spoof films) is under orders to survey and investigate things there, regardless of any warnings. The planet, as it turns out, is quite beautiful and stunning in its imagery. Our introduction to Robby the Robot may as well be a precursor to meeting See-Threepio decades later, as they both contain the same programs of languange and servitude. Robby, however, is not nearly as effeminate as See-Threepio (but that's another issue entirely).

Following the visual wonders of this new planet, the danger begins and memebers of the crew begin to die. What is destroying them, however, is very unclear, as we're only shown a figure of animation (courtesy of Disney studios on loan, by the way) that only resembles a very angry monster of sorts. This is where we're introduced to the concept of "monsters from the Id", the portion of the brian that seemingly houses all of our primitive and savage urges, including the will to commit murder. And so, in a concept that must have been pretty damn high for small children who went to see this G-rated movie, we learn that the "monsters from the Id" have been stored in the subconscious of Dr. Morbius himself, as he was responsible for unknowingly murdering his own people and members of C57-D's crew while he slept. Like I said, very high concept, but then again most of the really intelligent science fiction films are.

So, dated or not, FORBIDDEN PLANET is a visual and acting experience that should be appreciated. Without its imagination, we might never have known 2001, STAR WARS, ALIEN or even AVATAR...and wouldn't that have been a shame?

Favorite line or dialogue:

Commander John J. Adams: "Nice climate you have here. High oxygen content.
Robby the Robot: "I seldom use it myself, sir. It promotes rust."

Saturday, January 7, 2012

FOG, THE (1980)




(February 1980, U.S.)

John Carpenter's THE FOG may be a more significant horror film than you might think. After the incredible success of HALLOWEEN (1978), this follow-up puts Carpenter right at the peak of his craft during a six period that I personally consider to be the best of his career (frankly, after STARMAN, I never enjoyed another thing that he did. He's still a masterful musical composer, though). THE FOG also solidified Jamie Lee Curtis as the "queen of scream"...at least until she started making some non-horror films. THE FOG is also one of those rare horror films that takes place in a coastal setting. Let's face it, the beach and the sea may be beautiful, but they can also be very creepy if you have the right kind of weather to go with it.

So, for THE FOG, we visit the fictitious northern California town of Antonio Bay which is about to celebrate its centennial. This event is also marked by a series of ominous events; as the witching hour strikes and the date of the town's centennial begins (April 21st), various odd phenomena begin to happen all over the sleeping town (objects move by themselves, television sets turn themselves on, gas stations seemingly come to life, and all the public payphones ring simultaneously). We've also been exposed to a secret diary revealing that in 1880, six of the founders of Antonio Bay (including the town priest's grandfather) deliberately sank and plundered a clipper ship named the Elizabeth Dane. The ship was owned by Blake, a wealthy man with leprosy who wanted to establish a colony near Antonio Bay. During an unearthly foggy night, the six conspirators lit a fire on the beach near treacherous rocks, and the crew of the ship, deceived by the false beacon, crashed into them. Everyone aboard the ship perished in the icy water. The six conspirators were motivated both by greed and disgust at the notion of having a leper colony nearby. The town of Antonio Bay and its sacred church were then founded with the gold plundered from the ship. Thought-provoking events, indeed, that have now put a curse on the town, because the residents are going to pay with their lives when the dead of the Elizabeth Dane rise out of the fog one hundred years later and take their revenge against the descendants of those that conspired against them.

You see, people...sometimes a rather intruiging plotline CAN make for a better and creepier horror film!

I mentioned earlier how original I consider the locale of a coastal town to be for a horror film. I should also mention how original I consider the lighthouse radio staion to be, as well. The lighthouse not only represents the uneasy feeling of absolute isolation from the world, but also provides the lone DJ Stevie Wayne (played by Adrienne Barbeau) who not only watches over the calm sea to search for the fog, but also serves as the town protector in a way, as she uses her position of radio communication to warn the town citizens of what's about to happen to them.

THE FOG is not only true spook at its best, but one of my personal favorite horror films of all time. It's one of those rare treats you can enjoy on a cold night all by yourself at an isolated house on the beach with no neighbors around you (other than JAWS, anyway).

Favorite line or dialogue:

Stevie Wayne: "I don't know what happened to Antonio Bay tonight. Something came out of the fog and tried to destroy us. In one moment, it vanished. But if this has been anything but a nightmare, and if we don't wake up to find ourselves safe in our beds, it could come again. To the ships at sea who can hear my voice, look across the water, into the darkness. Look for THE FOG."

Thursday, January 5, 2012

FLYING TIGERS


(October 1942, U.S.)

During World War II, there was no greater movie hero than the great John Wayne! However, I'm convinced that just about every character he played in nearly every war film he did was pretty much the same guy! He was often a military commander who cared for his men, but would not take any crap from them and would harden his heart and distance himself if it meant keeping them safe and winning the day against the enemy. Hoever, redundant or not, during a time when Americans were rallied against the Japanese and our patriotism was at its peak, this was probably just the way we wanted "the Duke" to be. It should be noted, though, that FLYING TIGERS was Wayne's first war film and also one of the first films (if not THE first film) to make use of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which had only occurred eleven months prior. It would seem that American movie audiences were not only ready to address what had happened on screen, but were also ready to see "the Japs" get their asses kicked by some good 'ol fashioned American military heroes!

And so, the great John Wayne in this film leads the Flying Tigers, a legendary unit not sanctioned by the American government at the time. The pilots are the usual mixed bunch, motivated by money (as they receive a bounty for each aircraft shot down), patriotism or just for the thrill of aerial combat. These black and white sequences of aerial combat, by the way, are some of the best you're likely to see on screen for that particular era. However, their motivations, whatever they might be, are suddenly altered and put to the real test following the events of December 7, 1941. Money no longer matters. Patriotism and victory against the Japanese empire will surely win the day and it'll feel damn good to be an American. It's just a shame that Hollywood could not have returned to that old fashioned American spirit after 9/11. Perhaps that was when we need John Rambo the most; fighting Al Qaeda!

One thing that does irritate me, though, in FLYING TIGERS is this constantly repeated camera shot of the Japanese pilots holding their faces in agony whenever one of their planes is hit by bullets. They ridiculously look more like they've been doused in the face with hard water rather than shot to pieces. Watch the film and you'll see what I mean. On the other side of the coin, though, is a particular shot of the camera panning down to the desk, stopping at a page-a-day calendar with the date Sunday, December 7, 1941. It's almost chilling to watch that shot because we already know what's about to happen on that day.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Woody Jason: "Now wait a minute, fellas, we're all makin' the same salary - six hundred buck a month and five hundred a Jap, right?"
Pilot: "You know, back home most of us have killed rattle snakes whether there's a bounty on 'em or not."
Woody: "I know, but you're protecting your own home. This is not our home. It's not our fight. It's a business. And boy, I hope business is GOOD."