Wednesday, June 27, 2012

HAMLET (1948)



(May 1948, U.S.)

Okay, people, put on your Shakespeare caps, because I'm about to test your tolerance by putting you through not one, not two, but THREE theatrical film versions of HAMLET, the only required Shakespeare reading I ever actually ENJOYED!

Anyone who ever attended that deep pit of Hell known as high school more than likely had to read this play whether they wanted to or not. Like many others, I approached it with as much joy as I would root canal! Luckily, though, I had the right senior English teacher who broke down HAMLET into very understandable terms and into charactericts that high school students of the 1980s could appreciate and that was simply a young man who was committed to avenging his father's murder. Once you've wrapped your brain around that concept, the diabolical plotting and madness that trancend the story manage to fall into place.

Laurence Olivier's 1948 version stands on its own in that it not only provides the traditional black and white cinematic effects, but also manages to create a sense of surrealism in its rather grainy and moody camera shots. Indeed, I'd even dare to say that there are some specific shots that I would swear Olivier borrowed heavily from the camera work of Orson Welles. Regardless, though, the mood of Denmark is eerily dark throughout the film, particularly in its exterior scenes, which in some cases, give off some of that German expressionism that had its own fame in another time and another place. The scene where Hamlet's father reveals himself and his murder to his son is particularly creepy in that the father's spirit is filmed in a rather obscure direction giving it the appearance of a demon or some other evil form. You have to see it to really appreciate what I'm talking about.

During his time, like Orson Welles, Olivier WAS the master of Shakespeare in his own right. As Hamlet, he's hardly the tough guy that Mel Gibson may have been decades later in his own version. He is, however, a focussed man who will not only avenge the life of his father, but will also truly enjoy wreaking havoc and madness on those around him in the process. Those that know the story know that Hamlet is the king of procrastinators in that he never fully seizes the opportunities given to him to murder the new king whenever they present themselves, or as Olivier narrates himself, "This is the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind." Hamlet would prefer the process of "mind fucking" the king, his mother, his girlfriend and anyone else he can think of, into sheer madness. In the end, of course, as many Shakespeare plays reveal, the hero dies, the villain dies...shit, it seems everyone dies. Justice is served, murder is avenged and everyone is dead.

With so many versions of HAMLET to be accounted for, it's almost impossible to keep track of which ones are the more faithful to the original play. For the record, this version cuts nearly half the dialogue, leaves out two major characters, and includes an opening voice-over that represents Hamlet's fundamental problem as indecision. I suppose changes are necessary to make each version a little more interesting than its predecessor.

HAMLET won the Oscar for best picture of 1948.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Father's Ghost: "I am thy father's spirit, doom'd for a certain term to walk the night, and for the day confined to fast in fires, 'till the foul crimes done in my days of nature are burnt and purged away. But that I am forbid too tell the secrets of my prison-house, I could a tale unfold whose lightest word would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood, make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres, thy knotted and combined locks to part and each particular hair to stand on end, like quills upon the fretful porpentine: but this eternal blazon must not be to ears of flesh and blood. List, list, O, list! If thou didst ever thy dear father love..."
Hamlet: "Oh, God!"
Father's Ghost: "Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.
Hamlet: Murder."
Father's Ghost: "Murder most foul, as in the best it is; but this most foul, strange and unnatural."










Thursday, June 21, 2012

HALLOWEEN




(October 1978, U.S.)

Let me start out by saying that I hate, hate, HATE the fact that the time of year and my particular place in my film library alphabet will not permit me to write about John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN during the month of October! Let me also say that watching the film in the middle of the work day in June while I'm home sick doesn't exactly have the same cinematic viewing effect as watching it on Halloween night in the dark! I suppose these are two matters that I'll have to chalk up as "things that suck" in life!

So having vented that little bit of frustration, we can now focus on the independent film that any half-intelligent horror aficionado knows to be a true classic. Though can it truly be credited as the motion picture that ushered in the slasher film? I think I'd have to give that honor (if it is, indeed, an HONOR) to Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO (1960) and Tobe Hooper's THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASACRE (1974). What we can, perhaps, give John Carpenter true credit for is giving us a taste of a new kind of horror movie killer and a new kind of horror movie victim. From the moment the film opens, we're not only taken back fifteen years into the past where a seemingly lifeless, soulless six year-old boy (that's MY SON'S age right now!) named Michael Myers (Jewish boy??) hacked his older sister to death on Halloween night. But we're also immediately brought into the present day of 1978 where minimal dialogue between Dr. Sam Loomis (played by Donald Pleasence in his most famous role) and a nurse gives us the chilling notion that in the fifteen years that have passed, Michael has become something a lot more than human. Just the mere mention of the fact that "he hasn't spoken a word in fifteen years" by Dr. Loomis gives us that eerie feeling that something is not quite right. As HALLOWEEN moves along, we learn that Michael is something more than a man and quite possibly a murderer who will not die. This fact is what I can attribute to as being a new kind of horror movie killer that Carpenter is showing us for the first time.

I've also mentioned the idea of a new kind of horror movie victim. Young women getting hacked up on screen was not exactly an original idea at this point. However, with the characters of Laurie Strode (played by Jamie Lee Curtis in her film debut), Annie (played by Nancy Loomis) and Lynda (played by P.J. Soles), we're seeing female characters that are as sexually modern as the time they live in. Unlike the seemingly innocent Marion Crane in PSYCHO and Barbra in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, Annie and Lynda have sex, drugs and drinking on their minds; a perfect example of the promiscuity apparent during the 1970s. Although she has thoughts of sex and is seen smoking pot in the car, Laure is more the dependable good girl. Some might even argue that it's because of her goodness that she's permitted to survive Michael Myers murderous rampage at the end. Whatever...

It's important that I also give John Carpenter the proper credit for knowing how to take his time with a horror film. Michael Myers doesn't claim his first babysitter victim until 53 minutes into the film. It seems that Carpenter is purposely building not only the backstory, but also the tension that will eventually get the horror show rolling. Even when Michael stabs a young man to death in the kitchen, the camera pauses for a moment to stare at the killer as he slowly cocks his head to focus on (and perhaps admire) the body he's just impaled to the kitchen cabinet. Take a look...



The gory horror film was certainly nothing new in 1978. The early 70's had been filled with schlocky grindhouse-type double features that would have only played in local drive-in theaters, 42nd Street theaters in New York City and in Hollywood, too. HALLOWEEN, I might dare say, took the notion of the psychotic killer of young kids and gave it just a little bit of cinematic sophistication with dialogue, acting and even creepy electronic music (by Carpenter, too). Of course, though, as any Hollywood copycat would tend to drive into absolute franchise overkill, the idea inevitably spawned too many sequels and too many other immortal killers with names like Jason and Freddy.

Let me close out by saying that for me the HALLOWEEN franchise begins and ends with the original film. There was a time that I did like HALLOWEEN II (1981). However, as my film tastes matured and so did my intolerance for sequels, I realized that HALLOWEEN II was simply what the movie poster tagline promised and that was "more of the night he came home". More definitely, just not nearly as good. The franchise reboot beginning with HALLOWEEN 4 in 1988 is something I've never bothered myself with...and never will! And so, the fate of Michael Myers in my film collection is left with complete ambiguity. But as I've said before, there is the way things actually happened and they way we often choose to interpret those things.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Laurie Strode: "Was it the Boogeyman?"
Dr. Sam Loomis: "As a matter of fact...it was."

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

HAIR




(March 1979, U.S.)

HAIR, in my opinion, is one of those rare movie musicals that even a guy like me, who generally hates musicals, can love and enjoy. In fact, I can safely say that HAIR stands proudly as my favorite movie musical (from a very short list, I admit!). From the opening moment when the first song "Aquarius" begins, it already differs from the original showtune in that it features a beat that's more catchy, more funky, and with just a little bit of that disco sound that ruled the era. From the moment the camera work of Milos Forman circles around Ren Woods singing that song with her great physical passion, the viewer becomes part of the music and the spirit of the psychedelic '60s it represents.

Unlike GREASE (1978) just a year before, HAIR is clearly not a rock and roll musical that will be destined to ultimately become a chick flick. The music in HAIR is racy, as is the sexual freedom of the time it sings about. Racy is a key word here, because for me it defines the idea that you can likely get away with almost anything on screen or stage if you're simply singing about it. How else can you explain how a twelve year-old boy in 1979 (that's me!) got his overly-conservative parents to take him to a movie where hippie characters are singing about "Sodomy" and "Black Boys"?? In particular, the character of George Berger (played by Treat Williams - the first time I ever saw him!) is racy, obnoxious and at times, an asshole...and you just love to love him because he's a man also filled with uncompromised joy and freedom. He can sing and dance, too. His companions Wolf (played by Don Dacus) and Hud (played by Dorsey Wright) are a fine additon to the mix that defines family in a time of open minds and open bodies. The character of Jeannie (played by Annie Golden who looks a whole lot like Stevie Nicks circa 1977), I must confess, is a character I find almost useless other than for the purpose of illustrating that she's pregnant by two of her male friends (now THAT'S sexual freedom, baby!). There's also a strong point of bizarre irony in the end when, as a result of what seems like just another silly prank, Berger mistakenly ends up in Army uniform on his way to fight the war in Vietnam he's proudly been against throughout the film. It's actually a bit sad to watch his friends surround his grave as they break into the final song of the film, "Let the Sun Shine In".

Now here's a confession to share with you that will paint me as rather ignorant, even for a twelve year-old boy at the time. When I saw HAIR on screen, I had virtually no knowledge of the 1960's and the psychedelic youth conter-culture that made it infamous. That being the case, I honestly thought that the film was taking place in present day 1979 and that New York City's Central Park was just filled with a LOT of strange (stranger!) people. Hey, I was TWELVE, for Christ sakes!

Well, having written and shared all of this with you, I'm suddenly inspired to try and find a functioning 8-track tape copy of the HAIR movie soundtrack to also go with the functioning 8-track player I've been searching for on eBay for so damn long! But that's another issue...

Favorite line or dialogue:

Angry woman at dinner table: "You've got a hell of a nerve, young man!"
George Berger (in song): "I got life, mother...I got laughs, sister...I got freedom, brother...I got good times, man...I got crazy ways, daughter...I got million-dollar charm, cousin...I got headaches and toothaches and bad times too like you..."

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

GUY NAMED JOE, A




(December 1943, U.S.)

In most cases on this blog of mine, I'm afforded the opportunity to discuss an original film BEFORE I move onto the remake (presuming I even like the remake in the first place). Every once in a while, though, the remake falls under a different name, and in the case of the alphabet's order, Steven Spielberg's ALWAYS (1989) had to come before it's original inspiration, A GUY NAMED JOE. What can you do?

In 1943, World War II raged overseas while America pressed on with great spirit and went to the movies regularly to escape their troubles. Director Victor Flemming was also just coming off a few years of the two biggest hit films of his career, THE WIZARD OF OZ and GONE WITH THE WIND. For this film, he returned to the art of fantasy inside a World War II drama that tells the story of Pete Sandidge (played by Spencer Tracy), a reckless pilot of a B-25 Mitchell bomber flying out of England who's in love with Dorinda Durston (played by Irene Dunne), a civilian pilot ferrying planes across the Atlantic who's also quite sure that Pete's "number is up". She's not wrong. Wounded after an attack by an enemy fighter, Pete has his crew bail out before bombing the ship and crashing into the sea in flames. He's dead, for sure, but we next find him walking in the clouds, appearing as alive and as cocky as ever. Here's where we learn the rather poignant fantasy taking place here and that is that when great pilots die, they serve to pass on their knowledge and experiences to rookie pilots back on Earth with their spiritual presence. Actaully, it sounds real nice when you think about it.

Now, because love and cliche go almost hand-in-hand in the movies, the love triange is not absent here. In this case Dorinda, despite her bereavement, is falling for the handsome pilot Ted Randall (played by Van Johnson) who's unknowingly being "spirited" by Pete who's still jealously in love with Dorinda who also just happens to be inconveniently dead (follow?). By the film's climax, Ted is given a dangerous assignment to destroy the largest Japanese ammunition dump in the Pacific. Rather than face the possibility of losinng another man that she loves, Dorinda steals his aircraft to do the job herself. Pete guides her in completing the mission and returning to the base to Ted's embrace. It's now when Pete finally accepts what must be in life and in death and walks away toward eternity, his job completed.

Well, what can I say to that except, "Awwwwwwww!"

Steven Speilberg always loved A GUY NAMED JOE. You can see a brief clip of it in on TV in POLTERGEIST (1982). It is, believe it or not, difficult for me to distinguish if the original film is actually better than the remake. Each of them, in my opinion, have their own special, unique qualities that make them both stand out on their own. The original has that World War II era flavor behind it that gives it the wartime spirit that was not only very entertaining during it's time, but also very necessary to American morale. The remake, however, has that Spielberg touch that's almost never failed my expectations in the movies.

This could take some further thinking...

Favorite line or dialogue:

Pete Sandidge: "Now wait a minute, wait a minute, take it easy, take it easy. Either I'm dead or I'm crazy."
Dick Rumney: "Well, you're not crazy, Pete."
Pete: "You mean I'm dead?"
Dick: "Yeah."
Pete: "I'm...you mean, I...you mean this is for good?"
Dick: "You guessed it."





Sunday, June 10, 2012

GUNS OF NAVARONE, THE




(June 1961, U.S.)

Although the concept of the "summer blockbuster" didn't exist in 1961, I can only just try to picture myself in a movie theater in June of that year watching THE GUNS OF NAVARONE unfold on the big screen. This is not only one of the best war films I've ever seen, but also a tale of sheer adventure and courage that, even today, get my blood up in excitement every time I watch it. Corny as that may sound, it's these emotions that ultimately make a film great for those who appreciate it.

Gregory Peck as Captain Keith Mallory leads the efforts of an Allied commando team to destroy a seemingly impregnable German fortress of massive radar-directed guns on the nearby island of Navarone that threaten Allied naval ships in the Aegean Sea, and prevent 2,000 isolated British troops from being rescued. Like any great war film with great actors, you come to know, understand and even care about the soldiers involved. Captain Mallory is as American a war hero as you could ever come to expect on screen during the age of great cinema. But it's the other soldiers of foreign lands that tend to capture your attention here. In particular, there is the role of Andrea Stavrou (played by Anthony Quinn), a former Colonel in the defeated Greek army who is not only hell-bent on killing Germans, but also swears a personal vendetta against Mallory for being indirectly involved in the murder of his wife and children. Throughout the film, despite the teamwork between the two men, we as the viewer are lead to truly believe that Stavrou will kill Mallory at the end of the war, because "he's from Crete and they don't make idle threats." Cliche, though, is key in any war film where the Germans are our enemies because not only do all the men achieve victory together, but the two men in question here inevitably reach a common understanding and respect; the kind of respect that exist between soldiers that I personally find truly unique.

There's a particulary interesting element in the story when one of the men, Major Roy Franklin (played by Anthony Quayle) breaks his leg to the extreme of having to be left behind with the Germans in order to receive proper medical care. Mallory cleverly gives Franklin false information about their mission, knowing full well that the Germans will use an injecton of scopolamine to obtain the information they want. It's a minor tactical maneuver that does pay off because it gets the soldiers to their target and the guns of Navarone are destroyed.

By the 1960s, war films like THE GUNS OF NAVARONE featured a little more violence and explosive action that would become standard in the more modern war films you may have seen. There is a grand splendor of widescreen color action and adventure that can only come with a film of the past, when movie still truly mattered. It reminds me of the fact that I haven't seen a good action-filled World War II film on the big screen since SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998) and faven't seen a war film of any kind on the big screen since WE WERE SOLDIERS (2002). That's ten long years. With so much attention being paid to alien invasion 3D movies now, I fear the great war film with the great cast is dead and buried. Sad, indeed.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Corporal John Anthony Miller: "Now just a minute! If we're gonna get this job done, she has GOT to be killed! And we all know how keen you are on getting the job done! Now I can't speak for the others, but I've never killed a woman before, traitor or not and I'm finicky. So why don't you let us OFF for once! Come on, be a pal, be a father to your men! Come down off that cross of yours, close your eyes, think of England and pull the trigger! What do you say, sir??"

Thursday, June 7, 2012

GUILTY BY SUSPICION




(March 1991, U.S.)

If you've never heard of Irwin Winkler, then perhaps you should look him up. Among many things, he produced all of the ROCKY films and many of Martin Scorsese's films. GUILTY BY SUSPICION marks his first time as a director and he's chosen perhaps the most intruiging time period in the history of show business; the time of the Hollywood Blacklist of the 1950s. During this historical rising tide of McCarthyism and the Red Scare, many lives were destroyed for nearly twenty years. Those who refused to cooperate with the House Committee on Un-American Activities and implicate others by naming names were denied the right to earn a living and often went to jail. It's safe to say that America was at war with itself and those that sat behind the great big desks and the microphones weren't taking prisoners.

David Merrill (played by Robert De Niro), a director in 1950s Hollywood, returns from abroad to find that McCarthyism has completely taken over the town he once knew and loved. As the "golden boy" of 20th Century Fox head Daryl F. Zannuck, he quickly discovers that he won't be allowed to work in films any longer unless he decides to implicate his colleagues as Communist agents. He must decide whether to turn informant, or to stick to his principles and convictions at the cost of his life's work. As traditional cliche would have it, you can probably guess which decision he ultimately makes.

This is a simple, yet solid historical drama with an ensemble cast who can actually act their way through a challenging story. Most noteworthy is Martin Scorsese playing a film director forced to leave the country in order to ensure his own career. We already know what a spectacular team Scorsese and DeNiro have made over the decades, but it's a real pleasure to watch them act opposite each other in a film, even if it's only for a brief moment. The chemistry between the two of them simply speaks for itself.

GUILTY BY SUSPICION is just one of several films I own that deal with the ugliness of McCarthyism. Other titles include THE MAJESTIC (2001) and GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK (2005). Somehow, it's seems a subject that never gets stale and continues to work for those filmmakers who care to tackle it with some degress of freshness and originality.

Favorite line or dialogue:

David Merrill: "I might not be the best citizen in this country, but I was raised to stand up for what I believe in, and I'm going to raise my son in the same way, and as hard as that is sometimes, I'm gonna try to live it, and if that isn't what a real American is, then we've failed!"

Bravo, Bobby!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

GRUDGE, THE




(October 2004, U.S.)

Never in my wildest imagination, did I ever think I'd own a film that starred the girl who played "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" on TV. Just goes to show that anything's possible in life. Admitedly, I haven't seen the original Japanese supernatural horror film, JU-ON, that this film is based. I still have time, though, because I haven't gotten to the letter 'J' yet in my list. THE GRUDGE, however, is directed by the same man as the first, Takashi Shimizu. So perhaps it's not too unsafe to make a premature presumtion that the two versions are not too far apart. Well, they are or they aren't, this film likely proves that Japanese filmmakers have something over the Americans when it comes to creating true creepiness, freakiness and genuine horror without the use of cheap gimics, serial killers who refuse to die or gory torture with saws.

The premise of THE GRUDGE describes an evil curse that is born when someone dies in the grip of a powerful rage or extreme sorrow. The curse is an entity created where the person died and those who encounter this evil supernatural force die and the curse is reborn repeatedly, passed from victim to victim in an endless, growing chain of horror (make sense yet?). The film depicts these events in a non-linear narrative from individual perspectives of those who have fallen victim to the evil curse. The evil is primarily centered on a particular house in Japan that, on the surface, appears to be physically non-threatening and unsinister (much like the suburban home in POLTERGEIST). Inside, though, there are ear-piercing croaking sounds and very creepy visions of the wife and child who were brutally muredered by the father in a fit of jealous rage. The images of these two (dead) people with their wide, horrific eyes and jet-black hair is enough to make even the strongest of horror film viewers like myself gasp and say, "Jesus!" One particular scene that always gets me is when a woman is riding the elevator to desperately get to her home to escape the evil visisons and we repeatedly see the creepy image of the dead child through the elevator window. Take a look...



Getting back to Sarah Michelle Geller for a moment, I'm not going to say that she's actually bad in this film. It's simply that her character is not particularly interesting, in that her character spends much of her emotions as disturbed and frightened. In other words, any overpaid Hollywood sweetie could have done the same, better or worse. I suppose for a horror movie (unless you're Jamie Lee Curtis), it doesn't really matter, does it? Bottom line, THE GRUDGE, whether it be deemed a remake, a reboot or just an alternate version by the same artist, is a genuinely scary horror film that plays on effective elements as the haunted house, the undead and the truly terrified victim. That's good enough for the likes of me!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Karen Davis: "The whole time I was in that house I felt something was wrong. What happened there?"
Detective Nakagawa: "Three years ago, three of my colleagues were investigating what happened in that house. Two died mysteriously. The third was never found."




Monday, June 4, 2012

A LOOK BACK AT THE SUMMER OF 1982



I don't typically interrupt my list of movie blogs unless I feel I have a justifiable reason. While I won't claim this post is justifiable, it does represent nostolgic memories that have just recently been on my mind and it's my pleasure, if not my purpose, to share them with all who have blessed me with their time in reading my blog. So, kindly indulge me again with your attention and your memories.

You know, anniversaries are a funny thing when you're a film lover. Truth be told, they tend to bring out the DORK in you because you're sometimes overwhelmed with this uncontrollable need to shout out to the world that it was on this day, or this week, or this month that one of your favorite films was released in movie theaters. If you search the web, you're likely to find that on May 25th of this year, legions of STAR WARS fans posted some sort of message acknowledging the release of the very first film thirty-five years ago in 1977, and I was no exception. So you see? I'm guilty of the very "dorkiness" I speak of.

So all of this mind, let me propose the big question to those of you would acknowledge its relevance...Was the Summer of 1982 quite possibly the greatest summer blockbuster season of all time? Clearly, I believe so or I wouldn't be here right now. But why? It's not as though the summer blockbuster was anything very new in American movie pop culture. Previous summers had already given us two JAWS films, two STAR WARS films, three James Bond films and other assorted gems like GREASE, ROCKY II, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and SUPERMAN II. For myself, though, and possibly for many others who were there to see it, the Summer of 1982 brought blockbusters in great succession and most of them seemed to have something fresh and new to offer the happy moviegoer. Let me take a little of you time now and just do a quick review of what I'm talking about here. Perhaps you just might agree with me. We'll start with the month of May and work our way though...

CONAN THE BARBARIAN - this was the film that made Arnold Schwarzenegger a star and also the first time the legendary comic book hero was hitting the screen. It was R-rated, which made it a darker film and a gorier film...in other words, a better film from the same man who'd written the great APOCALYPSE NOW (1979).

ROCKY III - not a film I enjoy anymore (badly acted!), but back in the day this was Rocky Balboa's high point and a chance to introduce the world to a scary looking man with a mohawk haircut named Mr. T. On the plus side, the death of trainer Mickey was impressively sad and I still think Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" is a great song.

POLTERGEIST - as if E.T. weren't enough that summer, Steven Spielberg showed us all he could scare the living crap out of us beyond the great white shark with this very modern, 1980's haunted house film. It may be credited as a Tobe Hooper film, but any fan of Spielberg knows who the real brains behind it was. This film still chills the spine of my back to this day. And of course, Hollywood intends to fuck up its legacy by remaking it!

STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN - the first real Star Trek reboot. Although a financial success, STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE (l979) left too many fans with a taste of sheer boredom. We wanted action, we wanted juice, we wanted speed and we wanted just a little blood. We got it beautifully and we also got the pleasure of Ricardo Montalban reprising his great role of Khan Noonien Singh. And who can forget the rage in William Shatner's face when he yelled, "K-H-A-A-A-A-N-N-N!!!" at the top of his lungs? Arguably the best STAR TREK film to date.

E.T. THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL - come on, do I really need to talk about THIS film?? Amazing how an alien with a large, squishy head could create such a pop culture phenomenon and make Reece's Pieces look so damn good!

FIREFOX - not the best film in the world, even by the standards of Clint Eastwood. However, at the time, it generated a lot of interest because of its air battle sequences and the design of the fighter aircraft itself. In my opinion, though, these scenes of battle were surpassed just a year later with the giant helicopter film known as BLUE THUNDER (1983).

BLADE RUNNER - knowing full well what a classic piece of intelligent science fiction this is now, it's hard to imagine that thirty years ago this film was basically a critical and financial dud (just goes to show you that nothing is kinder to a film than TIME). However, I was there in the movie theater during it's initial run and I still maintain that the original 1982 theatrical version with Harrison Ford's narration is STILL the best version!

THE THING - again, time is kind to a film. Very underated and very underappreciated at the time. John Carpenter took an old RKO black and white movie he loved as a kid and turned it into quite possibly one of the best monster movie remakes of all time. It also shows just how effective and gross gore can be without the use of computers. Bravo, Stan Winston!

TRON - by today's computer standards, very unimpressive, indeed. But when you consider this film was made in 1981 when the personal computer was finally available to families at a somewhat reasonable price, it's relevance is clearer. It may not be the most exciting action film ever made, but it introduces us to the fantasy of the computer and it's (possible) dominance over our lives. It was also a celebration of the amazement of video games, BEFORE they looked like nothing more than computer generated cartoons. Long live Galaga and Ms. Pac-Man!!!

THE ROAD WARRIOR - I'm not entirely sure when this was relased in the U.S., but who cares. This was a sequel to MAD MAX (1979) but how many of us really knew that at the time? How many of us had actually seen MAD MAX in the theaters? This frightening look at an apocalyptic future where lack of gasoline has made animals of us all (most of us) still remains the best of its kind.

PINK FLOYD THE WALL - this was the film that turned me on to not only the great rock album, THE WALL, but also to Pink Floyd themselves, making them my favorite rock band even to this day. It was very low on dialogue, virtually plotless, frequently confusing, and the best damn 90 minute rock video that I'd ever seen on the big screen. After it's initial run, it became a very popular film on the midnight movie scene. Damn, I miss those days!

So, I think you've gotten the basic idea of what I'm talking about here, yes? Some of these films were great, some were not. Some raked in a ton of money, some did not. But I think even the duds like FIREFOX and TRON still proved that Hollywood (at the time) was willing to try something new during a season which was already clearly showing evidence of repetition and franchise. We simply got a really good eclectic mix of everything. I remember even as the Summer of 1982 drew to a close and I went back to high school, new films like FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH and AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMEN still had something to offer the moviegoer who didn't want to see something with a roman numeral attached to its title. I also remember, at that time, yet another re-release of the original STAR WARS, before George Lucas fucked it all up. But that's another matter of argument entirely!

By the way, here's a photo that inspired that final memory...



Both photographs shown are courtesy of American Classic Images.

And so, to the great summer that was 1982, I say...like the movie dork that I clearly am...Happy 30th Anniversary!





Friday, June 1, 2012

GROUNDHOG DAY



(February 1993, U.S.)

Bill Murray's character in GROUNDHOG DAY of Pittburgh TV meteorologist Phil Connors is, to put it bluntly, just my kinda guy! He's self-centered, impatient, cynical, gets almost physically sick when strange people are overly nice to him and generally holds the opinion that all people are morons (what's NOT to love about the guy, right??). The movie's lesson here is that he's going to relive the same day of February 2nd, Groundhog Day, over and over and over again until he "gets it right" and becomes a more decent human being. This concept is about as cliche as changes in human characteristics can possibly get and I suppose it's nececssary for the right message to come across and the film to be successful. For a guy like me, though, I don't necessarily WANT Bill Murray to change at all.

But lets's take a look at the day in question here. Having to awake at 6 am anywhere in the world is bad. Having to wake up to hear Sonny & Cher sing "I Got You, Babe" doesn't make things any better. Having to repeatedly do a stupid news story about a town getting together to pay tribute to a large groundhog known as "Punxsutawney Phil" might just as well be your death sentence. Hey, wait, but the day also allows you to do whatever the fuck you want to without any consequences because the next day will just start over the same way anyway. So go ahead - drive recklessly, eat all you want and commit whatever deception necessary to get yourself laid by Nancy Taylor. On the more sensitive side, though, it affords you the opportunity to repeatedly try to win over the girl you're interested in (especially if she's Andie MacDowell) even if she's constantly slapping you in the face day after day. Best of all, in my opinion, is the daily opportunity to act and REact just the right way to the obnoxious asshole who insists he remembers you from high school and just won't shut his mouth. You all know I'm talking about perhaps the best character in the film of Ned Ryerson (played perfectly by Stephen Tobolowsky). This man is your worst nightmare on a long plane ride, let alone just a few moments on the sidewalk. In the end, though, because cliche always tends to win over the situation, Phil Connors learns to use his "daily" powers to selflessly help others, win over the girl, and generally just be an all around nice guy. Yeah, right, blah, blah, blah, blah! Well, what the hell...it's a funny movie and that's all that really matters.

Would you belive that when I first saw GROUNDHOG DAY, I just presumed that not only was Punxsutawney a fictitious town in Pennsylvania, but that also the entire groundhop worshipping event on the day itself was made up for the film. Imagine my surprise (and possibly even my disappointment) when I later learned from NBC's Al Roker that the town was real and the moronic events themselves were real, too. Seriously???

Favorite line or dialogue:

Phil Connors: "This is pitiful! A thousand people freezin' their butts off waiting to worship a rat! What a hype! Groundhog Day used to mean somethin' in this town! They used to pull the hog out and they used to eat it! You're hypocrites! All of ya! You got a problem with what I'm sayin', Larry? Untie your tongue and you come out here and talk, huh? Am I upsetting you, princess? You know, you want a prediction about the weather, you're askin' the wrong Phil! I'll give ya a winter prediction...it's gonna be cold, it's gonna be grey, and it's gonna last you for the rest of your life!"