Category Archives: Movies

Why I Pretend None Of The Halloween Sequels Exist

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It’s October, the best month of the year. The heat and humidity of summer have given way to the cool, crispness of autumn. The leaves are ablaze with color. (I feel pity for those who don’t get to experience autumn.) My wife and I were married in October. I saw The Who for the first time in October. The baseball post season is in October. And the month is capped off by the greatest holiday of all. Excluding Father’s Day, of course.

The month tends to find me watching horror films. I’m partial to the classic Universal monster movies of old, but there are plenty of more modern horror flicks that I enjoy very much. The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972) has been discussed in this blog. As have The Legend of Hell House (1973) and The Changling (1980). It’s time I look at another modern horror classic: Halloween (1978).

Oh! It should be said there will be spoilers. But, relax. The movie and its first sequel are damn near 40 years old. If you haven’t seen them by now…

John Carpenter co-wrote, scored and directed this landmark horror film. It had a low budget and a cast of unknowns, with the exception of the over-dramatic Donald Pleasence as the villain’s doctor. The movie was almost universally praised by critics and loved by audiences. Roger Ebert compared it to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) and lauded it for not following the horror trope of the female lead being the helpless damsel in distress. Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie was smart and level-headed and, when forced to fight, she didn’t freeze up or faint. She fought back with whatever she had at hand, be it a knitting needle, a dropped knife, or wire hangers. (Christina Crawford would be out of luck if her famous mother had her way.)

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Michael Myers, the relentlessly stalking villain, dressed in dark overalls and a pasty, white mask of William Shatner/Captain Kirk, whose first kill at the tender age of six was his promiscuous teen-aged sister, fixated on Laurie. He killed three of her friends, who were overly preoccupied with sex (teenagers!), as he slowly worked his way to attempt to kill Laurie.

I’m not sure why Michael was compelled to kill her. Laurie wasn’t all about having the sex, she wasn’t doing any drinking, and she wasn’t much of a pot-smoker. She was considered pretty square by her friends. These slasher/horror films liked to kill the non-square kids, to punish them for daring to have sex. Maybe Laurie just looked like Michael’s sister. Since he was pure evil, as Pleasence’s character repeatedly said, I guess Michael didn’t need a reason.

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The film unfolds slowly, but keeps the audience’s suspense high by showing tantalizing glimpses of Michael stalking Laurie. She would spot him, but he would slip away instantly. Did she really see a man standing there? Was she imagining it?

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The film reaches its exciting climax with Michael’s doctor shooting Laurie’s homicidal stalker six times in the chest, sending the monster over the side of the second story balcony. The killer lay still on the grass as the doctor tended to Laurie. It was over. Or was it?

The final shot is brilliant. Michael Myers was no longer there on the front lawn, despite having been stabbed in the neck and the face and shot six times. He had vanished.

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It’s a terrific horror movie with a tremendously effective score. That music instantly sends chills down your spine and turns your skin to goose flesh. It also has some very striking visuals. I particularly like the shot of Michael standing on the porch across the street from the house where Laurie was babysitting. The boy she was tending to saw him, but when Laurie investigated, she saw no one. A neat turnaround from earlier in the film when she was the only one seeing this menacing figure.

Such a great horror film, with an ending that told us the evil of Michael was still lurking.

I would have left it that way. Any additional films would risk lessening this origin’s impact.

But Hollywood had to go and spoil it all by giving us a sequel. Several of them, but this blog is focusing on the original and the first sequel.

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The sequel, which takes place immediately after the events of the original (admittedly a nice touch), was co-produced and co-written by John Carpenter. He also provided music for the score, but he didn’t direct the 1981 film simply titled Halloween II. It wasn’t terrible, however it just paled in comparison to the original. There were a few effective moments. The hot tub killings of the promiscuous nurse and her creepy, sex-obsessed EMT boyfriend comes to mind and not just because of the naked breasts. (Although, they didn’t hurt.)

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Donald Pleasence and Jamie Lee Curtis returned. Pleasence was even more over-dramatic than in the first film, which, don’t get me wrong, I really like his performance in both films. Curtis, on the other hand, was way under-used. She had very little screen-time and even less dialogue. (Her availability was limited while she working on another film.) And, sadly, she became that damsel in distress who spent much of the final attack running and hiding from Michael. Well, she did finally shoot Michael (called “The Shape” in the credits, don’t ask me why) in his eyes, blinding him.

She’s one hell of a shot! She was on medication, she had multiple injuries from her battle with “The Shape” in the first movie, yet she was able to score two direct hits to his eyes. And she didn’t damage the mask in doing so. Amazing!

The worst aspect of this sequel was that a motive was given for Michael’s unstoppable need to kill Laurie. You see, Laurie was Michael’s younger sister! What? Why? WHY?!

We are told she was two years old when Michael killed his other sister. And she was adopted out when their parents died two years after Michael’s crime and institutionalization. The records were sealed, yet somehow Michael knew who Laurie was. Well, he was evil incarnate, so I guess he would know. Being evil incarnate does has its perks.

Eventually, Michael was destroyed. Blown up and burned from existence. There would be no returning now. Right? Of course, there would be. In fact, there were seven Halloween sequels and one remake with a sequel of its own. However, Halloween III does not feature Michael Myers at all.

I haven’t seen any of the Halloween films after Halloween II. Until the other night, I had only seen that sequel once and that was when in was originally released. I really wish I hadn’t watched it again. The original, which I’ve seen many times over the years, is so good just as it is. To me there is no reason to make any more. I like the way the original ends. Don’t mess with it.

So, I’m going to do my best to forget there are any sequels at all.

Happy Halloween!

Packing Peanuts!

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You know what’s a really good subway train hijack movie?

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I know there aren’t many subway train hijack movies from which to choose. There’s one from 1974 and its remake from 2009. I am unaware of any others. This week I’m writing about the former. It’s The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 and I think it’s pretty darn good.

Like The French Connection (1971) and Midnight Cowboy (1969), Pelham really puts across that gritty, dirty feeling of New York City. I don’t know if it was the film stock or the directing techniques, probably a combination of the two. Or maybe it was just that the Big Apple was that way in the ’60s and ’70s: Gritty, dirty, overcrowded, cynical, sarcastic. Maybe that’s what happens in really big cities. In Pelham, many of the characters are so jaded by big city life that when a potentially deadly situation occurs they react by getting angry about how it’s messing up their day, getting in the way of their work. “I’m trying to run a railroad!” was one of the complaints.

The potentially deadly situation is the hijacking of a subway train: Pelham 123. Four heavily armed men take control of one of the cars of that train (they cut loose all the others) and its 18 passengers. The hijackers disguise themselves with mustaches, glasses, and the rather mundane clothes of the average middle-aged man of the 1970s. They go by code names based on colors: Mr. Brown (Earl Hindman), Mr. Grey (Hector Elizondo), Mr. Green (Martin Balsam), and Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw).

No, Mr. Pink? Oh, right, that’s a different movie.

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Mr. Blue is the leader of the group. He means business. He’s cold and uncaring. He issues the demand of $1 million to be paid for the release of the hostages. He gives city officials one hour to put the money in his hands or, for every minute past the deadline, he will kill a passenger. Shaw is excellent as Mr. Blue, a former mercenary soldier with no qualms about killing.

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Mr. Green is a former motorman for the New York subway system. He’s angry at his former bosses for firing him on what he thinks was a bum rap. He brings the knowledge of the subway system, on how to drive the train, and he’s instrumental in the hijackers’ getaway plan. After all, they can’t exactly fly the train to Cuba. The two other hijackers are crowd control. One, Mr. Grey, is a little unhinged.

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All these actors, along with the actors playing the hostages, do a fine job. In fact, the hostages aren’t cliches, although they could easily have been. But the man who makes the movie is its star: Walter Matthau. Matthau is one of those actors who makes a movie better by just being in it. He’s great as Lt. Garber, a Transit Authority cop. He has the task of communicating with Mr. Blue, trying to buy time to meet his demands and then trying to out-think him to prevent the hijackers’ escape.

Matthau plays his character so well. He has that world-weary jaded side, but he brings humor to the role. He also brings a feeling of dire seriousness when his tolerance of his bull-headed colleague, who is more concerned about running a railroad than saving lives, gets stretched to the breaking point. It’s a satisfying moment for me as I was getting more than a little annoyed with that fellow. I’m sure that’s what director, Joseph Sargent, intended.

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The interplay of all the main characters works very well. Especially between Lt. Garber and Mr. Blue. I also like the play between Mr. Blue and Mr. Green, who might be a little too soft for this job.

There is humor throughout the film that works most of the time. It gets a little cartoonish when we meet the Mayor (Lee Wallace). He seems to be a send-up of Mayor Ed Koch, however this Mayor is very unpopular with the voters. He’s timid and indecisive. He’s weak as a leader. In fact, it’s his Deputy Mayor (Tony Roberts) who seems to be running the city. As if these flaws in the Mayor’s character weren’t bad enough, he also has the flu and everyone has to know it. The sequences with the Mayor are a little weak, but are necessary to establish how the city decides to pay the ransom and to lead up to a joke, delivered by the Mayor’s wife (Doris Roberts), about his chances at getting votes.

There’s also a joke paid off late in the film. The joke stems from Garber learning one of the hostages is an undercover cop. The name of this cop is unknown. Also unknown is whether the cop is a man or a woman. That’s the set up of the joke. And just so the audience doesn’t forget, Garber states three times throughout the movie the fact that the undercover cop’s gender is unknown. It seems odd that he keeps mentioning it, until the joke comes. Then it makes sense. It is a lot of build up though.

Those minor criticisms aside, the movie moves along at a good pace with excellent performances and (mostly) believable characters. And the final shot is pure Walter Matthau greatness!

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Oh! And the soundtrack is awesome!

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You never forget your first James Bond

Writer’s note: I realize the world lost Roger Moore back in May, so I’m a little late in writing this, but I had to write about something this week.

Roger Moore is my James Bond. When I was a kid his Bond was the first I saw in the theater. Because of that, I’ve always considered him to be my James Bond. I think a lot of folks my age (I’m 52) feel the same way.

I’m not saying he was the best. Just that when I think of James Bond, I see Moore in my mind’s eye. Of course, I have seen the other Bonds and they all brought something of interest to the character. But still Moore is my Bond.

It can be said that all the worst Bond films featured Roger Moore. Moonraker, Octopussy, and A View To A Kill were all dreadful. That’s probably due, in part, to the fact the actor had gotten so old that the notion that old fart could do all that super-spy stuff was too hard to accept. Moore was about 46 years old when he assumed the legendary role. Sean Connery was 41 when he gave it up! So, it’s hardly surprising that the spy really got to be so damn old, so damn fast. He had quite a head start, after all.

Be that as it may, Moore is my Bond.

Let me discuss my two favorite James Bond films, both from the Moore era: Live And Let Die (1973) and The Man With The Golden Gun (1974).

First off, both films are terribly tone deaf when it comes to their treatment of women. It’s more understandable that the Bond films of the 1960s would have a more limited view of women. However, the Moore era wasn’t much better. Even with Women’s Lib taking a prominent role, in the 1970s, in the movement toward equal human and civil rights for all, the Bond films were slow to change.

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In The Man With The Golden Gun, Bond walked, unannounced, into a strange woman’s (played by Maud Adams) bathroom while she showered. When she realized he was there, she confronted him with the gun she had with her in the shower. Bond asked if she always showers with a gun. She should have replied, “Do you always just walk into strangers’ hotel rooms and watch them shower?”

Later, when he was ready to bed a young, inexperienced agent (Britt Ekland), they were interrupted by the appearance of the shower woman. Bond decided to hide his younger conquest in the closet, telling her not to worry, she’ll get her chance to break off a bit the Bond soon, and then proceeded to have sex with the other woman.

In Live And Let Die, he convinces a Tarot card reader (Jane Seymour) to sleep with him because it was foretold she would in the cards. “You do believe in the cards, don’t you?” Well, she did and they did. The audience is let in on the “joke” when we see the deck was “slightly stacked” in Bond’s favor. It was played for a sly laugh in 1973, but as I watched it just recently with two males friend who are close to my age, one noted that “seduction” was pretty much rape. We all agreed. We also agreed that Bond was probably riddled with STDs.

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When I watch these movies with my son I always pause them at those moments to explain that is not how to treat women. Some of you are probably saying I shouldn’t tout these two as my favorites. It’s a fair cop. I still like them and I find much to be entertained by, but I remind myself each time I watch either of them, to heed the same lesson I give my son.

The movie does make one advancement in race relations. It is the first Bond film to feature the super spy having sexual relations with an African-American woman played by Gloria Hendry. He still treats her as worthy of his penis, but not his respect. One step forward, several steps back.

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Live And Let Die has James Bond looking rather trim, fit, yet slender as opposed to Connery’s more muscular version (Connery was a former body builder before he started his acting career). Moore looks good. He wears clothes well and he appears younger than 46. And it was a pretty good idea to make certain to get Golden Gun produced and released the next year to take advantage of Moore still looking fairly youthful.

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The villain played by Yaphet Kotto isn’t bad. He plays a dual role. One as a Harlem gangster, Mr. Big, complete with the ’70’s blaxloitation patter and look so popular in cinema in those days. The other as a small time dictator of a fictional Caribbean island. This character was more refined and educated. But, like all Bond villains, he doesn’t just kill Bond when he has the chance.

Just shoot him! Don’t tell him your plan. Don’t have your henchmen do it. Don’t come up with some elaborate method to off the man. Just shoot him! Oh, they’ll never learn.

Live And Let Die also has a really good secondary villain. Not Tee Hee (Julius Harris), the villain with the mechanical arm, although he is good. I mean Baron Samedi (Geoffrey Holder). You might remember him from the 7-Up ads in which he touted the “uncola… hahahahaaaa.” He was great, if underused, in the movie. He was good and creepy and made quite an impression on me when I was a kid. However, Bond dispatched with him a little too easily though. Or did he?

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Possibly the best part of this movie is its theme song by Paul McCartney and Wings. Say what you want about any of the other theme songs, none comes close to as great a theme song as this one. There are a few that aren’t bad, but this one is the best.

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The Man With The Golden Gun is probably my favorite of all the Bond films. This is mainly due to its villain, Francisco Scaramanga. The best Bond films all have one vital thing in common: A good villain. This villain is wonderfully portrayed by Christopher Lee and you can tell he was really enjoying the part. Scaramanga is a high-priced hitman who gets a million dollars a hit. And in 1974, a million dollars wasn’t chump change.

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Golden Gun also has its excellent, if creepy, henchman. The polar opposite of Live And Let Die’s Baron Samedi, Nick Nack, played by Herve Villechaize, delights when his boss dispatches of his target during the cold open. He also delights when he thinks he’s stymied his boss in the funhouse maze Scaramanga uses for his special hits. In fact, there is a likeness of Bond on display in the funhouse, because Scaramanga knows it’s inevitable he and Bond will face off against each other. He keeps the likeness as a reminder and as inspiration.

That sets up why I really like this one. As I stated earlier, the problem with Bond villains is they never just kill Bond. However, in Scaramanga’s case it makes sense. He believes himself to be the finest marksman and hitman in all the world, but he wants to test himself against the one man in the world who could give him a true challenge – James Bond. So, the one on one ending works, even with the talking about his evil plans and not just killing Bond when he had the chance. Where’s the sport in that?

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Both films feature the comic relief character Sheriff JW Pepper played by Clifton James. That character gets so dangerously close to being straight up racist. Oh, hell. What am I saying? He’s probably the Grand Poobah of his local KKK chapter. I cringe every time he calls a black man “boy” in Live And Let Die. It is softened slightly by the fact he calls every adult male in the film “boy.”

These films are flawed. No doubt about it. They are of their time and are good examples of how far we’ve come as a society. No Bond film made in the last twenty years would come close to the chauvinism and racial insensitivity as seen in these two films. And that’s progress.

My social justice side urges me to shun and hate these films. The kid in me still wants to like them. Warts and all.

I guess I choose to follow the kid in me.

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You Know What’s A Really Good Plane Crash Movie?

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A really good plane crash movie is Robert Aldrich’s The Flight of the Phoenix (1965) starring James Stewart as Frank Towns, a grizzled old veteran pilot from the days when the pleasure of flying could be found in “just getting there.” But, he’s not quite the hotshot pilot of his youth now that he’s flying a rickety old twin engine Fairchild C-82 Packet cargo plane for an oil company insensitively named Arabco (pronounced ah-RAB-coh), shuttling supplies and oil workers across the Sahara desert. As a navigator, Towns’ flying partner Lew Moran (Richard Attenborough), isn’t too bad. However, he spent a little too much time sipping from the bottle to notice the radio equipment was faulty.

The film opens as the flying veterans are transporting several oil workers, an oil company accountant, two British military men, a doctor, his patient, and a rather peevish German engineer to Benghazi. The group are ably played by several great character actors including George Kennedy, Ian Bannen (who was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role), Peter Finch, Dan Duryea, and Ernest Borgnine. But it’s Hardy Kruger who steals the show as he plays the German engineer, Heinrich Dorfmann, who turns out to be the man with the plan.

A sandstorm pushes the plane well off course and forces Towns to make a crash landing as the blowing sand clogs the engines. Two of the passengers are killed in the crash, while a third is seriously injured. The rest face the hostile desert conditions with little water and even less hope of rescue.

Dorfmann has an idea.

Although the plane is totaled, there is enough left intact and plenty of tools and equipment that a new plane could be constructed from the remains. Towns dismisses the idea initially, but the doctor tells him having the men work to build the new plane would give them hope. A baseless hope perhaps, but it would be better than the lot of them just watching each other die. So, the project begins.

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The film follows the men as they labor and lose hope and find resolve again to attempt to escape the desert. There are clashes between the men as the tensions rise and the water runs low, but most contentious of all of the clashes is the constant head butting done between the pilot and the engineer. Towns is certain it won’t fly and is convinced he will cause more deaths if he tries to get the contraption off the ground. Dorfmann seems to be more interested in just seeing it made. Lew keeps finding himself having to act as a go-between to try to keep the two headstrong men on the task of getting back to civilization.

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There’s a scene of very satisfying retribution meted out by the old pilot involving the insubordinate British sergeant after a particularly tragic event. The moment takes advantage of Stewart’s mastery of portraying righteous rage. And then there’s the revelation as to the kind of engineer Dorfmann is that brings Lew close to the edge of mental collapse. Attenborough plays the moment perfectly.

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In 2004, a remake was made that felt it necessary to bring in shoot outs and chase scenes, not realizing the tension, the action, and the story were the men and their desperate attempt to complete the “Phoenix” before their water, their strength, their sanity, and, ultimately, their lives ran out.

The film could use a slight trim as it comes in at 142 minutes, but it holds your attention as you root for these guys to get to safety. And watching Stewart and Kruger spar with each other is very entertaining.

“Get the popcorn ready, kids, we got us a good movie to watch!”

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“Daddy’s Gonna Kill Ralphie!”

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Christmas is coming again, so I thought I’d reminisce a little about one of my favorite holiday movies: A Christmas Story (1983).

I didn’t see this movie until many, many years after it was released. It was in the mid to late 90s, when I was listening to a couple of talk radio show hosts praising this now holiday classic, that it first time it came to my attention. My curiosity peaked, I sought it out. Finding it wasn’t too difficult, because by that time television had turned it into a holiday programming staple.

“Oh, did you miss it? Change the channel. Someone else will be playing it.”

Television was great at taking modestly successfully theatrical releases and turning them into required viewing classics. It’s A Wonderful Life and The Wizard of Oz are two fine examples of television’s influence. A Christmas Story may be the most recent film to have television help it along in that way.

The story is set in pre-World War II Indiana and is viewed from young Ralphie Parker’s perspective as he attempts to influence his parents, terrifically portrayed by Melinda Dillon and Darren McGavin, into giving him a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. But Mrs. Parker insists they are dangerous and that he’ll shoot his eye out. That’s a recurring phrase in the film. Adults were so worried about kids losing their eyes.

The movie is based on semi-autobiographical stories written by Jean Shepherd. Shepherd is the film’s narrator as the adult version of Ralphie relating this story of his youth. And he is wonderful. There’s a twinkle in the man’s eye, which you can clearly hear in his voice. The man can tell a story!

Although I grew up in a different era than what is shown in the film, the universality of the story – anticipating Christmas, coveted gift items, loving (if somewhat scary) parents, school, teachers, weird gifts from relatives, bullies, friends, and flagpoles –¬† appeals to my nostalgic feelings for my days as a kid. The way Ralphie feels about Christmas reflects the way I felt. And Ralphie’s fantasies, although silly and over-the-top, are good fun.

By far, my favorite character is Old Man Parker. He makes the film. McGavin is just so good as Ralphie’s furnace-fighting, foul-mouthed, major award-winning, gruff, but loving and lovable dad. Old Man Parker is the key to this movie, if he’s wrong the movie just doesn’t make it. And McGavin nails it.

His gruffness is all just bluster. He loves his wife and his boys. We see it in his reaction to the wife and kids bellowing out Jingle Bells on the drive home from getting their Christmas tree. Sure, he rolls his eyes, but there is love in there. We see it in Old Man Parker’s subtle smirk as he sends his oldest son back into the car after an unsuccessful attempt to help change a tire. An attempt that had young Ralphie accidentally drop an F bomb in front of his father for the first time. Hence the smirk. We also see it as the old man is almost as excited as Ralphie when… Oh, but that would be a spoiler.

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“Oh, wow!”

And, of course, there is the leg lamp!

I just love this movie. I watch it every year and remember all those wonderful Christmases from my youth.

Hard to believe the director of this classic, Bob Clark, also directed Porky’s.

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Yeah? Well, I like it!

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And so do a lot of horror movie fans, despite critics’ less than enthusiastic reviews at the time.

I’m talking about the 1982 sci-fi/horror classic John Carpenter’s The Thing. I was about 16 or 17 when I first saw it, so that might color how I feel about it, teenagers not necessarily being the most sophisticated of film connoisseurs. After all I thought Porky’s was hilarious when I saw it at roughly the same age. I haven’t watched Porky’s in a very long time, but I watched The Thing again just two nights ago.

And, for me, it still holds up.

It’s a terrific, if very intense and gruesome, popcorn movie!

Film critic Roger Ebert was bothered by the lack of character development and lack of intelligence of those characters. He wondered: If the creature prefers to attack individuals out of sight of the others, why did the fellows keep going off on their own? That is a good point, but I didn’t let that bother me. Good popcorn movies get a pass on such deficiencies. And, in recent years, the attitude toward this movie by critics has been changing. More and more it’s being lauded as one of the 80s’ best sci-fi/horror films.

The story involves a group of American men (no women!) stationed in Antarctica to do science or whatever they do down there, whose day is interrupted by a dog being chased by a couple of crazed Norwegians in a helicopter. The Norwegians, along with being crazed, are pretty bad with their weapons as they attempt to kill the dog. One couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with his high-powered rifle and the other manages to blow himself and the helicopter up with a mishandled hand grenade.

Come to think of it. Why would scientists in the Antarctic need high-powered rifles and hand grenades? Ah, never mind. Where’s that popcorn?

So, the dog is taken in and it is quickly discovered that it ain’t no ordinary dog. We learn that it is a parasitic creature from another world that creates exact duplicates of other living creatures. It duplicates members of the American team so well, right down to being able to talk and act just like the original, that it’s impossible to tell the difference until it’s too late. Well, Kurt Russell’s character, McCready, the hard-drinking, cynical, world-weary, helicopter pilot does devise a way to tell the difference. I won’t say anymore than that.

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McReady conducting tests.

Ebert mentioned that Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) handled the same basic story (a group of people in an isolated area with a powerful creature hunting them) much better. I agree. The suspense of Alien is more intense than the suspense generated in The Thing, still there is plenty of suspense as no one knows who can be trusted to not be the alien.

Let me praise the special effects of The Thing for a moment. They were excellent 35 years ago and they still look pretty damn good today. (There is a moment where the alien is clearly stop-motion animation, but it’s a fleeting glimpse.) The effects are all practical. There are no computer generated¬† effects in the film. In fact, in the film (set in the year it was released) we get to see that time period’s level of computer graphics sophistication in a scene with McReady playing chess on a computer. How far we have come in 35 years!

There is one particularly spectacular creature transformation scene. It is completely unexpected. It’s shocking, gruesome, frightening, and hilarious all at the same time. The alien might not be bothered by the intense cold or bullets, but it does burn, so the men use flame throwers to destroy the monster, which still manages to be able to escape. Well, part of it does, as we see in that exciting sequence. And the reaction shot as the men see the alien’s method of escape is terrific. It has to be one of the greatest “you gotta be kidding me” moments in cinematic history.

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Hang on. Why would scientists in the Antarctic need flame throwers? Ah, never mind. Where’s that popcorn?

The ending is bleak. (Sorry if this is a little bit of a spoiler for you, but the movie is 35 years old.) The survivors realize that there is no chance of any of them getting out alive. And they certainly can’t let that creature anywhere near civilization, so they have to flush it out and destroy it once and for all. McReady determines they need to make the area as hot as possible in order to keep the alien from just allowing itself to freeze again and wait for the unsuspecting rescue team to arrive.

They gather up all the dynamite they can carry and blow up the compound.

The survivors, exhausted and not sure if the alien is still among them, decide to wait and see what happens…

Ummm. Why would scientists in the Antarctic need dynamite? Ah, never mind. Where’s that popcorn?

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Four not to be missed Westerns of the modern era!

I love Westerns. Everyone should love Westerns. The world would be a better place if they did.

The Western is the oldest of all film genres. The first narrative film ever made was The Great Train Robbery (1903) and it was a Western. Hollywood has had a long time in which to get the genre perfected. But, Hollywood being Hollywood, it still doesn’t always get it right.

Because I love Westerns so much I may tend to be a little more forgiving of the lesser ones than a more critical viewer. That said, I still have no interest in watching Young Guns (1988) or Bad Girls (1994).

I got to thinking that there have been a few not too shabby Westerns in the past 25 years. I thought it might be a good idea to take a quick look at four of the more recent ones that I find to be pretty damn good. I won’t include Unforgiven (1992) and Tombstone (1993). They are fantastic, but everybody knows those two. They don’t need my touting.

I’m also going to avoid remakes such as 3:10 to Yuma (2007) and True Grit (2010), both are also very good. But, they found a larger audience.

So, here are four very recent Westerns that were somewhat overlooked, but I think are worth watching:

Bone Tomahawk (2015):

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This genre bending film, the most recent on my list, is about 8 1/2 parts Western and 1 1/2 parts Horror. It stars Kurt Russell as the world-weary sheriff of the small prairie town of Bright Hope. Russell is excellent and definitely needs to make more Westerns!

As the film opens, we come upon two drifters cutting the throats of sleeping cowboys in order to steal their goods. After securing a few valuables, the drifters stumble into a sacred Indian burial land and are attacked for the violation. One drifter (David Arquette) escapes to Bright Hope and ends up in jail with one of the sheriff’s bullets in his leg.

A townswoman (Lil Simmons) who assists the town’s doctor, who was too drunk to be of any help, was summoned to help with the drifter. She, the drifter, and a deputy are abducted during the night by a particularly savage clan of cannibalistic Indians. The sheriff, his “backup” deputy (Richard Jenkins), the town’s wealthiest and most learned man with plenty of Indian killing under his belt (Matthew Fox), and the husband (Patrick Wilson) of the abducted woman set out to rescue the three who had been taken.

The film follows this group into the “troglodyte” clan’s territory and they enter a horrifying world of brutal savagery. The third act of this film displays some very stark and stomach-turning violence inflicted by this Indian clan that pushes this Western into the realm of horror.

The acting is terrific and the dialogue feels authentic, even when people have conversations that are more meant to define their character, not service the plot.

Watch for an amusing cameo by Sean Young.

The Homesman (2014):

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This Western stars Hilary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones (who also directs) as a pair of frontier misfits brought together to see that three prairie dwelling woman, who have lost their minds, are transported safely back to the East where they can get the care they need. The harsh living conditions had driven these women over the edge of sanity and their husbands could no longer care for them, but were unable or unwilling to caravan the sick women back to Iowa.

An old maid, property owner Mary Bee Cuddy (Swank), spurned by men due to her being too ugly and too bossy, volunteers to take the women. As she starts out she encounters George Briggs (Jones) on the verge of being hanged. She rescues him and strikes a bargain for his assistance.

It’s a harsh country. It’s little wonder the three women lost their grip on reality. It takes hard people to tame such a hard land. Is Mary Bee hard enough?

The Dark Valley (2014):

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This Austrian-German Western (Yes! Austrian-German! There are subtitles.) is set in the Austrian Alps where an isolated town is under the thumb of Old Brenner and his six sons. The town holds a dark secret kept from the audience until well into the film.

The townspeople live in fear of the Brenners, but there is little they feel they can do in such an isolated land. As another harsh winter closes in, a wedding between two of the young townspeople is pending. Normally a joyous time elsewhere in the world, in this town there’s a dread of the Brenners that grows as the ceremony approaches.

One day a stranger rides into town…

Open Range (2003):

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My favorite of this batch. This Western feels more like the Westerns of old, but not hokey as many of them could be. There’s a strong sense of being honorable on the part of Boss (Robert Duvall), an old cowboy who doesn’t look to get into a fight, but he won’t be done wrong. Boss is driving a herd of cattle with his longtime partner Charley (Kevin Costner) and two others when they are set upon by an Irish land baron Denton Baxter (Michael Gambon) who hates open range cattle feeders.

One of Boss’s men is killed and another, the youngest of the group, is severally wounded. Boss and Charley take the young man into town to get him treated by the town doctor. There they meet a woman they assume is the doctor’s wife (Annette Bening) and Charley falls in love. It turns out she is the doctor’s sister.

The love story isn’t necessary in the film, but it feels genuine, as they come to realize their feelings for each other.

But, they still need to deal with Baxter and his men. Charley has seen and done his share of killing. He’s good at it, but he wants to leave it behind. He can’t. This wrong must be dealt with.

With the help of the livery owner (Michael Jeter), Charley and Boss take on Baxter and his men in a shoot out that feels real. There’s none of the grab their gut and slowly drop off the roof kind of shooting in this Western. Charley knows how to kill and how to read his opponents and he uses that advantage well. Boss may not be the gunslinger Charley is, but he can take care of himself.

There’s a close quarters gunfight between Boss and Baxter that is sloppy and inefficient and feels so real. None of that quick draw, shoot dead eight opponents with one six shooter kind of gunfighting here. They miss at close range almost more than they hit. That’s how I imagine real gunfights going down.

Open Range feels honest and authentic throughout.

Don’t let anyone tell you good Westerns aren’t being made anymore. Just give them these four examples.

Packing Peanuts!

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