Thursday, September 29, 2005

A Few of My Favorite Scenes

After watching the ending of The Last of the Mohicans for the 197th time the other day, I realized that there are countless individual scenes that I could devote whole (or in this case, 1/4) posts to. I'm going to try and make this a fairly regular thing, because I have a lot of scenes to get through, but here are three of them:

The last 20 mins of 'The Last of the Mohicans'

For all the hype that some Director's Cuts of movies get, the DC edition DVD of 'Mohicans' gets very little attention. But because of a couple of added lines of dialogue added to the very last scene, 'Mohicans' goes from being a fantastic movie to a truly great one.

Since I don't want to explain the whole twisting tale of deception and discovery set against the backdrop of the French and Indian War (just see it punk), I'll merely set the scene for one of my all-time favorite endings: Our adventurous semi-family unit of Hawkeye (Yankee raised as an Indian), Chingachgook and Uncas (the last of the Mohicans) go to rescue the two fair English sisters and accompanying officer who joined the three on their adventures before being captured by the Huron after an ambush. Hawkeye pleads with the Chief Huron to spare the lives of the women in exchange for his own, but Maj. Duncan (acting as French translator to the Chief) changes Hawkeye's words so that they will take HIS life (what a guy), leading to a thrilling mountain chase to retrieve the younger sister from the rogue Huron who kidnapped her in defiance of the chief.

Get all that? This is when Michael Mann's epic kicks into high gear, kickstarted by a driving Native American-style score composed by the director himself. The immature Uncas cuts the Huron warriors off at the mountain and has his way with them before their leader Magua (finally a good role for Mann mainstay Wes Studi), whose dagger and hatchet are more than up for the job. Mann's movies always have elite sound effects, but the jarring clash of their hatchets may be my favorite (especially with the DTS mix on the disc). Magua is a brutal fighter and makes short work of the tenacious Uncas before pushing him off a cliff. His mistake? Papa Chingachgook got to see his son's death, and whips out his crude, iron weapon (what the hell was that thing?), rips through Magua's warriors before breaking their leader's arms, destroying his shoulder and launching his blade through him. Even after all the masterful violence, the biggest thrill comes via Mann's added dialogue.

In the theatrical version, the movie ends when Chingachgook says he is 'the last of the Mohicans,' but in the director's cut, Mann drops this bomb:

Chingachgook: 'The frontier moves with the sun and pushes the Red Man of these wilderness forests in front of it until one day there will be nowhere left. Then our race will be no more, or be not us.'
Hawkeye: 'That is my father's sadness talking.'
Chingachgook: 'No, it is true. The frontier place is for people like my white son and his woman and their children. And one day there will be no more frontier. And men like you will go too, like the Mohicans. And new people will come, work, struggle. Some will make their life. But once, we were here.'

It's those last three words that just kill me every time. There's a perfect hesitation before he utters them too. 'We were here' just exemplifies the life of someone whose culture is dying, they won't be around much longer, but their legacy will.

'He's not nuts, he crazy!'

My favorite scene from one of my favorite movies. Yeah, that's right, I can say it: I love Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. It was actually one of the first 'real' movies I had ever seen. before that fateful night in 1986 when my parents rented a VCR along with 'Temple of Doom,' I had a steady diet of Disney movies and wannabe Disney movies. I hadn't seen anything that prepared me for hearts being ripped out, people parachuting out of an airplane on an inflatable raft and definitely not the sight of Harrison Ford cutting down the bridge.

What makes this scene is the unbelievable setpiece of the rope bridge. In the bonus disc on the Indiana Jones Trilogy DVD set, George Lucas explains that a construction crew making a dam up the river had put up the bridge for them and of course they could only destroy it once, so they had just one shot at the famous scene.

With Indy trapped in the middle of the bridge, he has nowhere to go but down. I love the line when Indy tells Short Round what to do in Chinese, I've seen it so many times I can recite it ('Chau chi, latsu satsa!' Imagine dropping that a Chinese restaurant sometime, 'yeah that's right, I'm about to cut the bridge!'). Only Steven Spielberg and George Lucas could use dialogue, music and visuals to convey such a sense of panic (the best example is when Willie's 'Oh my God!' is in synch with Indy raising his sword). And of course he does cut the bridge, but not before these red hot coals of dialogue:

'Stones will be found Dr. Jones! You won't!'

'Prepare to meet Kali ... in hell!'

The bar fight in 'Junior Bonner'

Just saw this recently, but I watched this scene about three times. After the year's biggest rodeo, its particpants and fans gather in a cowboy bar and Steve McQueen's title character dances with his nemesis' girl just a little too long, leading to an extroardinary bar fight. There have been hundreds of bar fights filmed, but none like this.

Legendary director Sam Peckinpah was able to convey through punches and thrown chairs the visceral emotions of the fight: it starts off angry, progresses to good-natured and ends exuding an air of sexual glee. These cowboys are so badass that in the right circumstances, a punch to the face from a stranger isn't that bad, hell it's actually a lot of fun. By the end of the brawl, McQueen had slithered away into a phone book with the girl, leaving everyone else to punch and clothes-line each other with smiles on their faces before the house band successfully breaks it up by starting into a country version of the Star Spangled Banner. Peckinpah's best action scenes were shot in his trademark not-so-slo-mo, but he wisely left the bar fight in real time.

Monday, September 26, 2005

My Own Private Drive-In

So on Friday night, the Mrs. and I got to catch a double feature of Wedding Crashers and The 40-Year-Old Virgin at our local kick-ass drive-in theater, the Parma Motor-Vu. The Motor-Vu was recently featured in an Entertainment Weekly article on the country's best drive-ins. Situated between some onion fields, the Motor-Vu has been showing movies to customers in their cars for more than 50 years. Not only is it beautiful setting for a drive-in (nothing but farm scenery all around it), but it also serves up a pretty good hot dog to those of us who are brave enough to stay for the double feature.

Pairing 'Wedding Crashers' and 'The 40-Year-Old Virgin" seemed like the perfect double feature for me, both movies were mildly disappointing (each losing most of their steam for the final reel). But I still had a great time, simply because there are precious few opportunities to see double features. So I'm turning this column into an If I Ran the Zoo fantasy of sorts, except substitute drive-in for zoo. Here are some of the double features that would run at Frank Burton's Drive-In:

The Night of the Hunter/Cape Fear

This would be a dream double feature for me. In The Night of the Hunter, one of my all-time favorite movies, you have Robert Mitchum playing one of the truly most terrifying characters of all-time. In Cape Fear, Mitchum plays a similarly evil and horrifying character. In both movies, Mitchum plays crazed men bent on getting what they want. But both characters still manage to be appealing to most people, which is why they are so damn evil: they are able to come off as good people, except to those who know what they want. Mitchum is maybe the only actor who could accurately portray these complex madmen, and his sly smile and stern eyes are on display in spades in these two movies, which are best seen in succession.

Halloween/Halloween II

As far as sequels go, Halloween II is pretty average, but its entertainment value goes through the roof when viewed right after Halloween, since it picks up just minutes after the original movie ends. It's rare to have a sequel literally continue what was happening in the original movie, but that's the case here and this would obviously make a great double feature to show on Halloween. The famous ending of 'Halloween' has Dr. Sam Loomis shooting his deranged former patient Michael Meyers and watching him fall off the balcony. But much to their dismay, and the audience's fright, when the characters look down from the balcony, Michael is nowhere to be found. The sequel picks up right at that moment and depicts the following chase to corral Michael.

A Boy and His Dog/The Road Warrior

Two fantastic post-apocalyptic flicks featuring the friendship between a man and his dog. The aptly titled A Boy and His Dog gives us a too young Don Johnson and his psychic dog Blood, who helps his master find what every guy in the future wants: sex. The budget is microscopic, the action bland and the movie maybe too short, but the exchanges between man and dog are hilarious, especially the ending. Director George Miller claims that 'Dog' was not an inspiration for The Road Warrior, but the similarities are there: A lonely drifter in a post-apocalyptic future, searching with his dog for the one thing he needs: gasoline. Dog (that's his name) doesn't talk in this one, but really neither does Gibson. This would make a great late-summer sci-fi double feature.

One Crazy Summer/Better Off Dead

This is a pretty obvious choice for me, as both of these are of the John Cusack Screwball 80s Comedy genre, and are very similar. One Crazy Summer gives us a loser Cusack who has some cooky friends trying to protect the world from corporate greed by beating some stuffy jocks at a yacht races. It features one of the best 80s Let's-Make-It-Work! montages as the gang restores an old junker boat. It also has Jeremy Piven, Joe Flaherty, Curtis Armstrong and even Bobcat Goldthwait for good measure. Better Off Dead has a loser Cusack who has a cooky family and will try to win a girl's heart by beating a stuffy jock in a skiing race. This one also has Armstrong, playing pretty much the same character. These would go great together just to show how similar so many 80s comedies were, and why we loved them for that reason.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

'What's My Name?'

This 1967 ice cold revenge flick starring Lee Marvin, Dean Wormer and even Carrol O'Connor really caught me by surprise. Watched it last night and it hit me like one of the many pistol whips dished out by Marvin. Point Blank is a brutal, barbaric and wildly entertaining tale of revenge with camera and editing work decades ahead of its time. If you thought Marvin's trademark movie was The Dirty Dozen (which also came out in '67, damn that was a good year for ol' Lee), then you'll be knocked on your ass from 'Point Blank' just as I was.

At its core, 'Point Blank' is a tale of the meanest sonofabitch criminal out to get the money that was stolen from him by a huge criminal syndicate. But thanks to the work of Marvin, some of the best editing of its era and a bold undercurrent to the story from director John Boorman, ‘Point Blank’ is a timeless classic It's not that they don't make 'em like 'Point Blank' any more, in fact they do (The Limey could be considered a modern re-telling and Mel Gibson's Payback was a straight-up, halfway decent remake), it's just that even with all the brutal violence and political incorrectness, 'Point Blank' contains a subtel secondary plot that would be too tempting for today's filmmakers to center the whole movie around.

Okay, I've alluded to this secondary plot twice now, but I'll hold off on explaining it until later, okay?

'Point Blank' finds Marvin's character 'Walker' in one of his many flashbacks to a robbery gone wrong on Alcatraz, when his partner Mal Reese stole his share of the money, ran off with his wife and also shot him twice in the gut for good measure. Walker was left for dead on The Rock, but somehow survived, and now he's back to get what's his, namely the $93,000 owed him and just maybe the lives of everyone who stands in his way.

Driven by a mysterious man named Yost who would also like to see a few choice middlemen in the syndicate taken down, Walker heads to Los Angeles for answers. Marvin masters the role of Walker, making his every movement and word as robotic as his emotionless violence. The best example of this is when he goes to his wife Lynne's house, where she is living with Reese. He throws open the door, covers her mouth, scouts out the area, and then rushes upstairs to fire four shots from his Magnum into the spot of his bed where he used to sleep, the spot that Reese has taken.

But Lynne is of no use to Walker, so he grabs her sister Chris and uses her beauty to infiltrate the syndicate and get closer to the men who have his money. Walker shakes 'em down, and when they can't help him, say goodbye. The way that Walker kills his way up the criminal corporate ladder is almost video game-like, with each department head acting as a boss at the end of a level. There's a great performance by Lloyd Bochner ('Twilight Zone' fans will instantly recognize him as the lead character from To Serve Man), who is tricked by Walker into walking into his own deadly trap. The idea of corporate runaround ('I can't get you your money!') was probably a new concept in 1967, but of course it's a much-parodied subject now, making 'Point Blank' all the more relavent now.

Throughout Walker's emotionless violence is his twisted relationship with Chris, who he still has some use for. Even though he is incapable of expressing any passion, he sees her as a way to get back at his wife and maybe an outlet of rare enjoyment. But whenever he gets close to her, all he can see are his enemies who slept with her as well. For Chris, being with Walker tears her apart since he somehow convinced her to sleep with a man she despises so Walker could slip past his guards, but he offers her the only protection from the criminals out to get her. This relationship is illustrated beautifully in a scene where Chris is so frustrated she starts hitting Walker as hard and as fast as she can. As Chris flails on Walker, he stands there not even blinking, taking every hit until she collapses from exhaustion.

When Walker works his way to the top of the syndicate, he finds himself at a familiar location to get his money: Alcatraz. But when the money is there and Yost reveals his agenda, Walker seems to disappear into the shadows of the place where he probably should have died. Although there is no spoken lines that would allude to Walker being a ghost of some kind (thankfully), the cryptic ending gives it some credence, as does the original Alcatraz scene where he takes two shots at point blank (I knew I would end up typing that!) range.

It's an elite revenge movie made timeless by Marvin's acting and presented with revolutionary jump cut flashbacks that would not become commonplace for another decade. Do yourself a favor and pick up 'Point Blank.'

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Overrated Horror Movie No. 19
'Sleepaway Camp'

I like horror movies as much as the next guy, maybe not as much as the guy next to him wearing the Japanese 'Evil Dead' shirt, but, yes, I like 'em. However, I have been frequently snake bitten by the overrated horror bug. These films are usually not known by most mainstream moviegoers, but have received considerable acclaim by the guy you don't know who sits next to you at 'Revenge of the Sith,' or your the guy in your dorm who organizes 'Friday the 13th' marathons and ends up being the only one watching them. They point to these movies as one of their all-time favorites and are shocked that you have not seen them. More often than not, these horror flicks prove to be slightly more entertaining than the good episodes of 'Saved by the Bell: The College Years.'

The most egregious example of this is Last House on the Left, a movie so disappointing and unworthy of any praise that I cannot even go into detail about it in this sentence (it deserves a post unto itself), but the most recent offender is Sleepaway Camp, which I had the displeasure of seeing last night. Hailed by its legions of fans as one of the camper slasher genre's best, and lauded by even more for its 'surprise' ending, 'Camp' apparently has enough interest in it to warrant the Sleepaway Camp Survival Kit, a boxed set that includes all three movies and even a Sleepaway Camp Diary!

The following words in this post will contain massive spoilers about 'Sleepaway Camp,' and I have no regret doing so because I feel that this is a public service message so that no other unfortunate souls will voluntarily waste 90 minutes of their life watching this mess.

So if you actually want to wade through the first putrid 89 minutes and truly be 'surprised' by the ending, do not read beyond this line.

'Sleepaway Camp' begins with two young kids involved in a terrible water skiing accident, resulting in their father's death. Fast forward 8 years and the two kids, Ricky and Angela, are off to spend the summer at Camp Arawak. Ricky is your normal 13-year-old boy, while Angela does not speak and will not even acknowledge someone is talking to her. This is all well and good until a cook at the camp tries to show her some home cooking in the walk-in refrigerator. After said incident, said cook is bowled over by a wave of boiling water.

More 'accidents' like this occur, usually after someone slights our lovely Angela. A boy is drowned, another boy is stung to death by bees while locked in a bathroom stall. Meanwhile, Angela is still not talking, until a friendly boy starts paying attention to her. They hold hands and kiss, but when the boyfriend wants any more action, the party's over (he'll find out why soon enough). As campers and counselors are killed off, we have people saying "oh it's just you" or "what do you want?" when the killer approaches them, building up suspense for the unmasking of the murderer.

It's completely obvious to anyone watching that the killer is Angela, and here's the twist:


You sure?

Here goes:

Angela is . . . A BOY!!

Yep, that's it. Seems that in the water skiing accident, angela somehow had her scalp torn off or something, so when she went to live with her aunt, she made him into a her. This is hardly a surprise either, since she doesn't want to be touched and doesn't shower with the other girls. But what makes this yawn-inducing 'surprise' ending even worse is how it is presented:

We see Angela stroking the face of her boyfriend, counselors run to her, we see that the boyfriend is just a head, and Angela stands up, naked, with blood covering his/her chest and starts making noises akin to a slighted mother bear. Close up, fade to credits.

Okay, so she's a boy, but unlike any good movie with a surprise ending, this doesn't change anything with the rest of the movie. All this explains is why Angela wouldn't let her boyfriend touch her, and I guess why she felt the need to kill everyone. The rest of the movie is completely forgettable as there is no suspense, humor or any remarkable characters.

So now you're probably wondering how they could make a sequel (two sequels!) to this trash. Well, Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers, puts Bruce Springsteen's little sister (no joke) in the role of Angela, and is largely known for having one of the worst posters imaginable (Ha! Look she's going back to camp and is taking Jason's mask, Freddie's glove and a chainsaw!) Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland gives us more Pamela Springsteen, this time at an inner city camp, looking for more blood. The boxed set even includes footage from the fourth installment, 'The Survivor,' which was never finished. Gee, how could that have happened?

Friday, September 16, 2005

Comparing the Incomparable:
Jean-Claude Van Damme vs. Steven Seagal

Their careers are essentially dead, today's generation has little idea who they are, and you won't likely see any 'Special' or 'Collector's Editions' of any of their movies in the immediate future. So why do we care? Well, both Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal began their careers at relatively the same time (1988-89) and the prime of their careers spanned the same amount of movies (11). Unfortunately, neither appeared on the screen together, but today we're pitting their respective careers against each other to find out who was the better white kung fu action star of the last two decades.

To accomplish this, we will look at how many bonafide quality movies each made in their career, how each actor's best movie stacks up against the other, as well as their legacy today. It guarantees to be a wild (though unconsequential) ride, so fasten your silk kimonos and tie back your curled mullet. But first, a primer on both of our contenstants:

Jean-Claude Van Damme
Born in Belgium as Jean-Claude Camille Fran├žois Van Varenberg (thanks mom and dad!), Van Damme fought his way up the European kickboxing circuit before trying his hand at Hollywood, where he was helped along by Chuck Norris. In the mid 80s, he started work on what would later be 'Bloodsport,' but due to waning interest from the studio, it wouldn't be until 1988 when it was finally released, boldly marking Van Damme's entrance to the thriving late 80s beat-em-up genre. His sophomore effort, the who-cares sci-fi slop 'Cyborg,' was forgettable, but Van Damme unleashed a fury of hits in the next two and a half years with 'Kickboxer,' 'Lionheart,' 'Death Warrant,' 'Double Impact' and 'Universal Soldier.'

Van Damme combined with legendary action director John Woo to make his best movie, then underrated 'Hard Target' of 1993, and had a minor hit the following year with 'Time Cop,' but it was clear then that interest in Van Damme was falling at the box office. His last real theatrical release, 'Sudden Death,' bombed with audiences and marked the end of his career as a first-run actor.

Van Damme's movies typically featured him as a down-on-his-luck jeans-wearing gentle guy with one hell of a mean streak. His fighting style favored power kicks over speed, and he generally stayed away from guns until his later years.

Steven Seagal
Not much is known about the real background of Seagal. A Vanity Fair article a few years ago revealed that he may have lied about having a CIA background (a common practice because the agency does not confirm nor deny the employment of former agents) to further his career as an elite fighting instructor. What is known is that Seagal spent many years honing his craft (primarily aikido) before he was spotted by a Hollywood producer. His debut 'Above the Law' was an instant hit and followed by the popular 'Hard to Kill' and 'Marked for Death,' which both came out in 1990. 'Hard to Kill' is still criminally underrated and is regarded by many Seagal fans as his best movie and one of the best beat-em-up movies of the decade.

In his first three films, Seagal demonstrated his unique aikido style, which relied on transforming the moves of his opponent into crippling blows. The most famous example of this is in 'Hard to Kill,' when he snaps a villain's arm by bending it over his other arm in one fluid motion. But it was Seagal's next film that would be his biggest hit. 1992's 'Under Siege' was a true blockbuster and one of the best action movies of its era. Adding more weapons play and some end-of-the-world danger, along with his playful sidekick (former Playboy Playmate Erika Eleniak, who enjoyed a semi-career after 'Under Siege') made for quite a successful combination. But he would never come close to matching the success of 'Under Siege,' as his subsequent movies (even 'Under Siege 2') were all worse than their predecessors.

Body of Work
Seagal undoubtedly had the biggest hit, but it could be argued that Van Damme had a more consistent career, with seven quality movies, compared to Seagal's five (he gets marked down for 'On Deadly Ground,' his post 'Under Siege 2' movies and his role in 'Executive Decision' was too small to count). Van Damme's 'Double Impact,' 'Nowhere to Run' and 'Cyborg' don't make the cut, but 'Lionheart' and 'Death Warrant' just sneak in due to how well they were received at the time.
Edge: Van Damme

Best of the Best
This is a tough one for Van Damme to win, as his best work 'Hard Target' isn't as well known or did as well at the box office as 'Under Siege.' While Van Damme benefitted from Woo's expert lens and casting (where have you gone, Lance Henrickson?), Seagal had a great suspenseful story and a perfect villain in Tommy Lee Jones. 'Hard Target' has the murky shadows of New Orleans and the mysterious bayou, but 'Under Siege' has a battleship overrun with terrorists and even a submarine. In the end, this is a battle Van Damme cannot win, even with his trademark roundhouse kick.
Edge: Seagal

It all comes down to this, and the hardest category to decide to boot. So how has life treated our action stars since their careers have ended? Well, Van Damme has been in and out of cocaine rehab and Seagal has been reduced to a pudgier version of himself, still trying to make it as an action star. Since they both have fallen on hard times, let's look at how their movies will remembered. As I see it, Van Damme's good looks will be outweighed by Seagal's more entertaining fighting style, which looks good on film and is sure to be more cherished than Van Damme's high kicks. Also, not having an accent helps his cause. Sorry, Jean-Claude Camille Fran├žois Van Varenberg.
Edge: Seagal.

It was a time that may never be repeated in Hollywood for those lucky enough to live through it. Seagal and Van Damme may not have made that many (or good) movies, but did provide a generation of adolescent boys a glimmer of hope that, yes, white guys can indeed kick ass.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Third Time is NOT the Charm

Watching 'Omen III: The Final Conflict' for the first time last night, I was reminded once again that movies with 'Part 3' or 'III' following their titles are best avoided. I'm not saying that sequels are usually bad, because there are many instances ('The Road Warrior,' 'The Empire Strikes Back,' 'Spiderman 2,' 'Aliens,' etc.) where the second installment manages to trump the original (although a significant argument could be made for 'Alien,' since the big budget James Cameron sequel was not a horror movie like the original was). But films almost universally fall flat when trying for three. And without delving into 'Part IV' and '5' sequels, since it is accepted that they will be bad, let's take a look at my list of favorite bad Part III's:

'Omen III: The Final Conflict'
As I stated above, I just saw this last night and was very disappointed. Being a big fan of 'The Omen' and having mixed thoughts on the second one, I had mild expectations for 'III.' But this movie really has nothing going for it, starting with its horrible decision to flamboyantly change the 'rules' implemented in 'The Omen.' In the original, Gregory Peck was told that to completely kill his demon child, he needed to use all seven of the special daggers and even spear them in a certain order. But in 'III' we are told that just one stab from a dagger will kill Damien, giving the director a chance to show many different, and stupid, failed attempts on Damien's life (seriously, if you're going to corner Damien on a bridge while he's surrounded by a bunch of dogs, you're asking for trouble. Me? I would just follow him into a bathroom and stab him at the urinal.)

In 'III' we meet a grown-up Damien who is positioning himself to be America's ambassador to the United Kingdom so he can kill the second-coming of Christ and eventually become president. There are again many silly deaths caused by his satanic powers, with the worst being the suicide by Damien's predecessor in the U.K. After being hypnotized by a dog, he goes to his office, calls a press conference, then takes the ribbon out of his typewriter, wraps it around the doorknobs to a pistol pointing at him at his desk so when the reporters come through the door, they will blow his head off. So did he think this up on his own or did the dog give him all the instructions? Had the dog tried this before? Would it really work? I better find out before I type anything more about this awful movie.

Jaws III
Simply one of the worst movies ever made. I can't imagine how Steven Spielberg must have felt watching his masterpiece reduced to D-grade slop in just a few years. While the second 'Jaws' was almost passable as entertainment, 'Jaws III' is impossible to witness without wincing at the Community College-quality blue screen work and the ulcer-inducing finale: the second shark (yes, there are two in this one, the first one was just a baby!) 'eats' a scuba diver holding an underwater explosive, but somehow forgot to swallow him, so his relatively unharmed body is still in the shark's mouth. This sets the stage for Dennis Quaid's character trying to reach inside the shark's mouth to pull the pin on the bomb held by a dead scuba diver, which results in the most poorly staged explosion ever witnessed: one frame the shark is there, the next frame there is a cloud of blood, wow!

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome
Yes, I know there are some who enjoy this atrocity, but I despise this unworthy finale to a great series. In 'Mad Max' and 'The Road Warrior' there are spectacular car chases and stunts, but in 'Beyond Thunderdome' our hero drives . . . a team of camels. Cool. The plot revolves around getting a smart midget to a city where he can turn the lights on by refining pig shit, and there's something about a society of children who think Max is their savior. It really matter though because it's not entertaining, it's too long and it's not Mad Max.

Ugh, that's all for now, thinking about all the pig shit puns in 'Beyond Thunderdome' put me in a bad mood.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Did that really happen?
'Gremlins 2'

It's a strange emotion when you watch a movie about 10 years after you first saw it and realize: 1. It's one of the worst movies you've ever seen, 2. You actually liked it the first time through.

This was the case with me seeing 'Gremlins 2' last night on HBO. I vividly remember seeing it in theaters the first weekend it was released, and my brother and I both enjoyed it. But seeing it now, I can't help but think 'Gremlins 2' has aged worse than almost any movie I've seen. Before you disagree with me, let me remind you of one scene in particular:

In a series of scenes designed to show the audience just how crazy and out of control these gremlins are, the 'movie' you're watching 'stops' because there are gremlins in the projection booth. The film burns away and we see gremlins doing shadow puppets on the screen. The next shot is of a woman and her child coming out of the theater and complaining to the manager of the problem, and we then see the projectionist who quits because of the gremlins, who 'only want to see Snow White.' It's the next part that almost made me vomit: The manager goes into the theater and finds none other than Hulk Hogan, who yells at the gremlins to put the movie back on.


Yes, this scene actually exists. The Hulk Hogan Scene epitomizes how unwatchable 'Gremlins 2' is compared to the original. 'Gremlins' had some slapstick in it, but was also actually pretty damn scary in a few scenes. In 'Gremlins 2,' director Joe Dante seems intent on filming every possible pop culture gag he can, even if the plot may occasionally get in the way. The best example of this is near the end when the characters are trying to figure out a way to kill the gremlins, it's played tense by Dante, but then he randomly switches to a Gremlins Phantom of the Opera scene, which quickly ends and puts us back into the plot. Huh?

'Gremlins 2' is another example of how the 'Yeah We Know It's a Movie' convention does not work. There are a few instances where characters acknowledge the existence of the original 'Gremlins' movie. One in particular is a shot of Leonard Maltin reviewing 'Gremlins' only to be attacked by the creatures. Oh, so the movie 'Gremlins' exists in the 'Gremlins 2' world? Did you happen to notice that the main characters in 'Gremlins' are actually real and work for the cable network that is broadcasting a review of 'Gremlins'?

There are a few saving graces (okay, two):

--Since this is Joe Dante, that means Dick Miller is in the film as well, and he's his usual awesome self.

--The puppetry on the 'brain' gremlin is fantastic and actually better than some CGI mouth work (George Lucas, take note). I forgot about this character (voiced by Tony Randall), it's probably the best part of the movie.

Monday, September 05, 2005

The Failed Movies: 'Gone in 60 Seconds'

On paper, it all sounded so promising: A remake of a movie few have seen but some have heard about, known more for its chase finale than anything that happens before it. Add an all-star popcorn cast (Nic Cage, Angelina Jolie, etc.) and a similarly star-studded automobile lineup. Sounds great, right? I was so disappointed in 'Gone' that it began to entertain me at how it topped its ineptness with almost every scene.

BLOCKBUSTER EMPLOYEE: Wait, Frank: Didn't alot of people like this movie? Shit, didn't a new Director's Cut DVD of 'Gone' recently come out?

The worst part about (and it has a lot of contenders) is how it squandered all the potential it had, because it did look very good on paper. This is why 'Gone' falls in the 'failed' portion of DVD Panache, because there are many many bad movies, but fewer that can truly be labeled as 'failures.' The main plot failure for 'Gone' is that throughout the supposed grandiose car heist, there is zero suspense, because the cops' plan is to wait until they have stolen all the cars and THEN nab Cage and friends.

Yet the film spends so much time showing the myriad of car heists and trying to act like they're dodging all sorts of trouble, when every viewer knows that there is no way they will get caught until the very end, supposedly setting up an epic finale. This means the film is devoid of any conflict (which I thought was a central plot point for any film) until the last 15 or so minutes. Of course to create genuine emotions of suspense during all the car heists, the people behind the camera would actually have to work, which they clearly weren't interested in (this is especially evident during the final chase, more on that later).

Another failing for 'Gone' is how inept it is when dealing with the very cars they lured their audience with. The producers obviously wanted to cater to the car crowd (which included myself), but we see so very little of the hundreds of cars, it's almost not worth it. Most of the exotic cars are seen simply entering a warehouse or just leaving a curb -- WOW! If you're going to make a car movie, at least give us some worthwhile scene.

But the most memorable failing for 'Gone' has to be the final chase, which manages to be boring and maddening at the same time. I could bore you an equal amount by going on about how Eleanor is obviously a replica and does not excite any true car lovers, but I wouldn't do that to you.

The chase itself has a whole slew of missed opportunities. John Frankenheimer still holds the title for the best modern chase scenes with his memorable tire squealers in 'Ronin.' How did he do it? He made them real and didn't use cheap camera tricks like 'Gone' does, using quick cuts many interior car shots, never really giving the viewer a good look at what is really going on.

Finally, the most well-known shot in the original 'Gone' was Eleanor's magnificent jump to end the chase, which is seen by multiple angles and camera speeds. The beauty of this shot is that it looks so realistic, because of course it actually happened. There is no such beauty in the final jump of the new chase scene, because it is a CGI scene. What? You're actually going to use CGI for a damn car jump? Last I checked, there have been maybe hundreds of movies throughout the decades that have successfully filmed car jumps, and they never had to use CGI. Luckily for the lazy people behind 'Gone,' CGI was available, and they didn't have to work very hard on their big 'stunt.' Instead, we get a very cheesy effect that is clearly fake and explicitly unamusing. This uninspired effect actually made me laugh out loud in the theater because it was the perfect ending: the biggest missed opportunity of all to a movie that failed on all its potential.

Friday, September 02, 2005

From New Orleans to Vienna

Watching the terrible visuals of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, I was reminded of one of my favorite movies. One that tells the tale of a ravaged city, with its inhabitants trying their best to remain human despite the fact that the surroundings they once knew are now largely destroyed.

I am speaking of 'The Third Man,' which I believe is one the ten best films ever made. Carol Reed's movie opens with shots of post-war Vienna, once a posh, striking city, reduced now to crumbling buildings, decaying culture and interlocked in international politics. The same could be said for New Orleans, certainly one of the most distinctive cities in the nation, but one that will probably never be looked at in the same way.

In Reed's version of Vienna, in between the ruins of bombings are people who are trying as best they can to do the things they did before the war, so that even for a moment their minds can be taken off the depressing sights around them. Almost every character in 'The Third Man' is guilty of these actions, beginning with Maj. Calloway, who Joseph Cotten's character Holly Martins meets in one of the first scenes. Calloway is obviously a defeated man, whose job of enforcing laws in one fraction of a largely lawless city is fruitless, giving him little motivation. But chasing criminals such as Harry Lime (Orson Welles) is one of the few things he has left that still make him feel like someone.

Then there is Dr. Winkel, the professor who invites Martins to speak on his books for an educational series of his. Programs like Winkel's serve as a brief respite for the residents of Vienna trying to make sense of the horrors around them.

And of course the film's most famous set piece, the Ferris Wheel serves in this capacity too. In that scene, Martins and Lime are among the few visitors to a carnival area untouched by the bombings. The carnival is still operating and the Ferris Wheel is one of the few reminders of the pre-war Vienna. Lime's timeless line after exiting the Ferris Wheel sums up post-war Europe and gives hope to those affected by the hurricane, as adversity can bring with it prosperity:

'Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly.'