Monday, August 31, 2015

RIP Wes Craven

I'll keep it short and sweet. I have seen a decent amount of films by him in my life (even though some I have never reviewed here, much less Letterboxd) so I was saddened to hear he passed away. I had no idea he even had brain cancer, so it came out of nowhere. Last night I watched again The Hills Have Eyes, which despite its goofiness is still effective in my eyes. Later I'll watch again the sequel to that movie, the one with the dog flashback. It's pretty awful but I wanted to write more about it on Letterboxd. I'll review something here in a few days at the most.

Rest In Peace Wes Craven

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Shack Out On 101

Shack Out on 101 (1955)

Runtime: 80 minutes

Directed by: Edward Dein

Starring: Terry Moore, Frank Lovejoy, Keenan Wynn, Lee Marvin, Whit Bissell

From: Allied Artists Pictures

After too long I finally saw another film noir. I explain below in the Letterboxd review why I picked this one to see.

Recently I realized I haven't watched a noir in too long a time so I figured I should go with this one, a movie I first heard about right here on Letterboxd, shortly before several people plugged it on the Rupert Pupkin Speaks website in the past few weeks. The plot sounded interesting to me and it was nice to see familiar names, from Terry Moore and Frank Lovejoy to Keenan Wynn and Lee Marvin. I never watched Seinfeld but all you fans of that will laugh when you hear that Uncle Leo is also part of the cast. When I saw that Marvin played a cook named SLOB, I knew I had to watch this. It's not hard to find but legally, Olive Films put it out on DVD and Blu, so you may want to throw a few shekels their way if you want to see this:

The plot: It's set in California at a greasy spoon diner off of U.S. Highway 101; it's not a popular joint, so you rarely see customers in there aside from the people who are integral to the plot. It's run by Wynn, who plays-shock of shocks-a person who more often than not is gruff and cantankerous. Marvin is Slob, the cook. There's a waitress known as Kotty (who is usually referred to as a "tomato"), and among the regulars you do see include Kotty's successful scientist boyfriend and there is also a war veteran who has what would be known not as PTSD. There are important secrets which are being stolen and that's as detailed as I'll get with the plot.

The movie is rather odd in ways I'll mostly not spoil. Yet I was quite entertained with it. Most of the movie takes place in the diner; to echo the comments of someone else here, it does come off as a stage play at times. Thankfully this pulpy tale is never dull and it's nicely acted by the cast, who spout out acres of great and hard-hitting dialogue. There are also some pretty rough moments for a 50's film.

To give but one example of the weirdness: there's a random scene where Wynn and Marvin are working out in the diner, as there are no customers around. Things come off as quite homoerotic as they compare their bodies to one another. Note that more than one even odder thing happens in this movie.

At least this movie does stand out due to being one of a kind and even 60 years later it is still a gas to watch.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Halloween III: Season Of The Witch

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

Runtime: 98 minutes

Directed by: Tommy Lee Wallace

Starring: Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin, Dan O'Herlihy, Ralph Strait, Jadeen Barbor

From: Dino De Laurentiis/Universal

Here is something I don't often do: really change my mind on a film. When I saw this in the past (more than once) I didn't really care for it, and not for the stock answer many give as to why. I explain why I felt that way and why I feel different now in my Letterboxd review below:

Note 1: After this review it may be some time before I get back to seeing movies from the franchise. It may be more appropriate to see them in October anyhow.

Note 2: This “not being like the others as it has nothing to do with Michael Myers” has nothing to do with my rating.

Note 3: As like a 7 or 8 year old I saw the opening part of the movie on television one night. My mom put a quick end to that. That was likely for the best as I probably was too young for horror films at the time.

Since I first saw it I never really enjoyed this film, not due to it being separate from the rest of the Halloween franchise, but rather due to issues I had with the story. Yet, I realized the last viewing was who knows how many years ago so I figured it'd be most fair if I watched it again with new eyes and as it turns out, my opinion actually did change.

The plot: a middle aged man runs to a gas station carrying a Silver Shamrock Halloween mask then is attacked by a mysterious man in a suit before then being killed in the hospital by the same man. A Dr. Challis (Tom Atkins in a solid performance) at the hospital is troubled by this. When the man's young daughter arrives at the scene, they soon agree to go to the town of Santa Mira, California (a nice Invasion of the Body Snatchers reference) to do some investigating of the Silver Shamrock company, and what a plot they uncover.

When I saw the movie those few times in the past, I thought it was absolutely ridiculous with a massive plot hole and yet I did always recognize it had some great deaths. Well, viewing it now, it turns out I was always incorrect on believing the movie acted like the entire United States had only one time zone. It wasn't crystal clear but I just read too much into it, PLUS I finally noticed a piece of machinery in the background of one scene that gave the time for the four time zones. I will admit I was wrong.

Yes, the movie is still ridiculous, some of the special effects look on the fake side-especially viewing it on Blu-and a lot is left unexplained. Yet, this time I found the movie to be pretty entertaining, and I can rate it as being "fine". While emulating Carpenter, first time director Tommy Lee Wallace still does a nice job. Dean Cundey returns to do the cinematography and he does good work there. And the 80's synth score from Carpenter and Alan Howarth is simply awesome.

Also, the movie is constantly creepy throughout. Various weird things happen during the picture. Santa Mira looks like a rustic little town but there's a nightly curfew and no one from the town actually works at the factory. As I said before, there are still great deaths in this movie and you'll never forget them. The main cast all does a swell job, from Atkins to Stacey Nelkin as Ellie, the murdered man's daughter, and what a villainous turn from Dan O'Herlihy as Conal Cochran. He does some great subtle things throughout; while preposterous his scheme-involving Samhain, a reference to the last movie-is definitely diabolical.

Of course there were some moments that made me laugh. That old homeless guy who brazenly cursed out Cochran and then had a Cheez Whiz sandwich was pretty funny. Dr. Challis being a middle-aged guy who is a womanizer, divorced, and loves alcohol, not automatically a laugh riot. But him bringing along a six pack of Miller High Life for a drive to Santa Mira-at least he wasn't driving-and there being the expected romance between he and Ellie, resulting in him asking what her age is AFTER having sex with her... hilarious.

I don't often change course on a movie like this. But this is a time that I will have to. I was mistaken about it all these years, and I am glad I could see the light now. This bombing at the time ruined the plans of the franchise becoming a yearly anthology thing, which is definitely a shame, especially looking at the quality of those movies once Michael Myers were brought back.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

I Talk The First Two Halloween Movies

I'll be short and sweet here. Sorry for vanishing for a few days, but those are the breaks. I did watch the last two nights the first two Halloween films. I reviewed the second one here long ago but my opinion has lightened on it. You can read the review for the first one here and the second one here.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Runtime: 154 minutes; at least that's the version I saw

Directed by: James Cameron

Starring: Arnold, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick, Joe Morton

From: Carolco

Here's a movie I somehow never reviewed for this site, and I am talking about either Letterboxd or this Blogpost page. I have seen it a good number of times in my life so I figured it was about time I talked about it. The Letterboxd review is below: 

(Note: I saw the 154 minute version on Thursday night. Although, I'd rate both that and the theatrical version the same, as I've seen both more than one time each)

I won't join in on the debate of this film or the original is the “better” of the two. There's only a half star difference between the films according to me but as of this moment I think the first one is just a little better. One is a serious and perfect B movie with a quality plot and an awesome villain, the second a pumped up action spectacle that is helped by quality special effects. To think that I saw this movie first and I've watched it more than the original. Point being, I am happy thinking that according to my canon this was the second and last Terminator film they made, and the lesser entries in the franchise that came out afterward never actually happened.

I don't need to spend much time talking about the plot as I am sure everyone is familiar with it. So, I'll mention that it is interesting to see how Sarah Connor has changed now knowing that human life will change forever and her son will be responsible for saving humanity; no wonder why she acts pretty crazy. However, when the chips are down you do see that she hasn't become cold-blooded and she still has a heart and conscience. I understand why people would be annoyed at how young John Connor is an obnoxious punk who wears a Public Enemy t-shirt. Some blame the performance of Edward Furlong for that but I never thought that was really the case. While it is sad to see what became of him in real life as an adult, at least in this film the character does grow up and has to make some decisions, making it easier to see how he becomes a hero in later years. Also, at times it's rather goofy at best seeing John try to “humanize” Arnold as a now good guy T-800 model. Yet, it is interesting to see that warped father figure and John bond, as that's also important for the character's development.

Of course, after the events in this movie you can wonder how Skynet still becomes a thing, except that the timeline is pushed back. I am ignoring how the third movie tries to explain it. You end up getting into how all time travel movies at heart have “hey, what a minute...” moments or how with this particular franchise, “Why didn't they keep sending back people or machines to kill John, or his past ancestors?' Unless it's the simplest of time travel movies, all are liable to give you a headache thinking about them and if they're complex, oh boy. Instead I just try to enjoy them for what they are unless they break the basic logic rules you expect and here, it is interesting to see how they deal with the one person who unwittingly is responsible for Skynet. To me I think that time travel movies are usually interesting and it can be fun or intriguing seeing how changing the past can affect things and here, it's trying to stop a cataclysmic event.

Anyhow, the main characters are all interesting (it isn't hard to see why Arnold and his character here became iconic, with several lines still a part of pop culture today) but what a performance from Robert Patrick as the liquid metal T-1000. What a terrifying villain it is and he brought it to life perfectly to life. I understand he put in a lot of effort to make it so (even learning how to run like the T-1000 does and not get tired) and I am glad he did.

While the T-800 becomes like Batman and doesn't kill any human beings (although at times it seems like people are knocking on heaven's door due to the damage they received... again, like Batman), it doesn't really matter as this is still an epic film where you have a lot of carnage, tremendous set pieces, still effective action moments, CGI that doesn't look dated 24 years later, a terrifying dream sequence of a nuclear bomb destroying a city, and it's all seen with nice cinematography and augmented by a quality score from Brad Fiedel which is more symphonic than the 80's synth goodness that is his soundtrack for the first movie, but both are pretty sweet for their own reasons.

No matter which one you think is “better” (I say a lot of that depends on what you prefer when it comes to movie tastes, as there are many differences between the two) I say that both are still classics and are still effective in 2015.

As an aside, in like '08 or '09 I got to see the theatrical cut on the big screen, original film print and all. It was great... aside from a near fight breaking out. From that and other screenings of old films I've been at in the past, let me declare: don't be “that guy” who loudly recites the dialogue from the movie while it's showing. There's been a few problems I've seen personally with this, and it's best if you just don't do it. Yelling out an iconic line or two is understandable. Otherwise, you'll just come off as a know it all and/or rude.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

66% on Rotten Tomatoes (out of 183 reviews)

Runtime: 116 minutes

Directed by: Guy Ritchie

Starring: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Hugh Grant

From: Warner Bros.

Last night I returned to the Cinepolis theatre in Davenport (where I only went to once before and I had a bad experience there on a bad day and I saw the bad film Jurassic World) and this time I had a better experience there. Despite the middling reviews on it I still decided to see this movie. Well, it is a middling film, sad to say. See me explain why below in the Letterboxd review:

Should I have considered it a bad sign when I was recently told by my parents that even they didn't really watch the 60's TV show this property was based on, and they were teenagers at the time? I am pretty sure I never saw any reruns of it as a kid. Guy Ritchie... I have seen and rated LS&TSB pretty highly and Snatch (which I'll review here at a later date) I also would give a high score to, but Sherlock Holmes I haven't seen since I saw it on the big screen and I didn't really care for it; once I see that again I'll discuss at that time my issues with it. Despite those signs, it disappointing at the box office and not so solid reviews, I still took a chance on the movie, and I may be a little generous in giving it an average rating.

The plot... there isn't much to it. Super spies Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin from the CIA and KGB respectively must team together to stop the production of a nuclear warhead in Italy by some mysterious people. It's really as simple as that, which is not necessarily bad. I wasn't disappointed with the simplicity or how the story did not have a lot of action. I only barely paid attention to the commercials and if I ever saw a trailer it went in and out of my mind so I wasn't swayed by what I presume was just another example of dishonest marketing. Rather, as the story unravels you realize just how hollow things are and once it was over and examined it as a whole, I realized how bad and nonsensical it actually was; the fact that it was another “style over substance” product and I am usually not a fan of those...

Also, as someone who never watched the source material, did Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo CONSTANTLY act hammy and campy to the point of being creepy and unnatural? Because Henry Cavill certainly did here. No matter the case, I don't blame the actor for the performance; I wish that the director wouldn't have directed him to act that way, as at least with me it got old pretty quickly and it annoyed me more than anything else. At least I thought the rest of the performances were fine or better. Armie Hammer did a nice job portraying a Soviet in Illya; I discovered after the film that his great-grandfather was Armand Hammer, a very rich man who had ties to the Soviet Union and in fact is rumored to have been a spy for the KGB. What a wild story.

Despite the major issues I have with the story and how it was a whole lot of nothing, I can still rate it as average, albeit with a reservation or two from me. Hopefully I am not being too generous here but it does have some merits. The setting is the early 60's, which I was happy with, as it meant groovy clothing, a cool style, a classic setting that should have led to better than what we got, and what I thought was a very good score, whether it be the songs they used or what Daniel Pemberton came up with; I especially enjoyed the jazzy interludes.

Also, while I haven't seen Ex Machina yet it does sound like something more to my tastes and to be honest, I noticed that Alicia Vikander was a rather attractive lady, at least according to my tastes. Well, in this film she looked very pretty and was great in those colorful early 60's outfits. She also delivered a quality performance as the dame who has to work with the two spies as her dad is involved in the nefarious plot from the villains. I think it's cool that there are a pair of brunette Swedish women who have broken out this year and are well-known around the world rather than just in their native homelands.

I wonder what would have happen if Tarantino had done his adaptation in the 90's, or if the studios weren't their typical idiotic selves and Soderbergh would have directed Clooney back a few years ago. I will presume both would have had better plots than this did. The general idea seemed fine-a retro cracking spy film-but the execution was lacking here.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

On The Waterfront

On the Waterfront (1954)

Runtime: 108 minutes

Directed by: Elia Kazan

Starring: Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger, Eva Marie Saint

From: Columbia

I don't have a lot to say now, except that I finally saw this classic movie, and as least in my eyes it still does deserve the status of being an all time great. Read why in the Letterboxd review below:

This is one of those times I have to admit embarrassment at not seeing a classic film; this was me with On the Waterfront until last night, when I saw it on TCM. I now wish I would have seen it sooner, as the movie is outstanding.

In short: the plot centers around Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando), who works at the docks and because his brother works closely with the mob-connected union boss known as Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb), Terry has an easy job while the rest of the blue collar workers have a rough go of it as they are constantly mistreated and paid poorly. After Terry unwittingly assists in the murder of Joey Doyle (a man about to talk to prosecutors), he gets to know Joey's sister Edie (Eva Marie Saint) and they fall in love. With the added pressure of a priest (Karl Malden) who wishes to rid the docks of corruption, and Terry has to make several different choices and no matter what he chooses, the ex-boxer will anger some people and the consequences could be deadly.

Everything about this movie is great: the direction from Kazan, the captivating story, the real life blue collar setting of the shipping yard and the surrounding neighborhood, the score from Leonard Bernstein, and Boris Kaufman's cinematography are but a few examples. However, it's the performances from the cast as a whole that makes this a classic. From Cobb as the detestable villain and Malden as the priest to Steiger as Terry's brother and Eva Marie Saint in her debut, all are quality acting jobs. But it is Marlon Brando in the lead who is legendary; it is an all-time great performance from him. It's not an easy role as he has to go through the gamut of emotions and he knocked it out of the park.

Of course for years I've known of the “I coulda been a contenda” line but never knew the context of how it was used. Now, I finally know and that is an all time great scene in the back of the cab between Brando and Steiger. Then again there are many great scenes throughout. It will remind you why Brando-despite all those issues later in life-still has such a reputation for his acting skill. I say that this is a classic worth seeing, as it will tell you not to live a D & D (deaf and dumb) life and you'll be inspired by the journey of Terry Malloy. What an ending it has too.