Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Scanners is a movie I didn't really like when I saw it as a twelve-year-old, and because of that first impression, it's not one of the Cronenberg movies I've ever felt the need to come back to again and again. I've seen it again once or twice over the years, and while I can admire parts of it now, I'm still kind of turned off by its cheapness, bad acting, and overall...Canadianness. (And I don't mean that in a purely negative way. Canada is awesome! Just that it has a kind of foreignness that's a tad off putting and depressing to me. I have the same reaction to a lot of British movies.)

As far as I can tell, we didn't go see this in a theater. It came out in 1981, but I couldn't find a listing for it at any rep houses on April 24th, so I likely saw it on video.

Ultimately, I probably watched the movie just for that one famous moment--we all know what it is--and that is certainly my go-to image whenever I get a migraine, and anyone asks what that feels like.

So, with that, please to enjoy the best 10 seconds found in the movie Scanners.

SFIFF: Darling Companion

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

I'm not sure how the affable comedy Darling Companion found its way into a film festival that tends to show much headier (and more foreign) fare, but I imagine the name recognition of director Lawrence Kasdan is one reason, even if that cache is based primarily on the films he made in the 80's.

Festival programming director Rachel Rosen introduced the film as another entry into Kasdan's chronicles concerning "baby boomer angst," and that's an apt description. Many of the characters here would have felt right at home in The Big Chill reunion house. And the picture is a family affair, as Kasdan's wife, Meg Kasdan, co-wrote the screenplay.

Diane Keaton and Kevin Kline star as Beth and Joseph, a Colorado couple with a very comfortable life. He's a spinal surgeon, and she's a wife, mother, and newly-turned grandmother who is beginning to face some of the inevitable loneliness of aging when she and her daughter Grace, (Elisabeth Moss), find and rescue a dog on the side of a freeway. They dub the dog Freeway, and Beth decides to keep him, much to the initial chagrin of her husband.

Grace, meanwhile, decides to keep the veterinarian who treats Freeway, and the movie soon jumps ahead a year to their wedding, and the introduction of the rest of the film's ensemble cast, which includes Dianne Wiest, Richard Jenkins, Mark Duplass, and Ayelet Zurer.

It is at the couple's mountain retreat, post-wedding, that Freeway runs off, and the rest of the movie involves the quest to find the missing dog, and how this quest reveals and changes the familial and romantic relationships--or companionships, if you will--of the family.

On one hand, it's refreshing to see a movie that caters to and features a solid cast of grown-ups, (with particular strong performances from Diane Keaton and Richard Jenkins). And much of the film is downright pleasant and lovely. (The Colorado scenery adds a lot to the proceedings.) But on the other hand, there's really not a lot of there, there. And much of the time I found myself much more concerned with the safety of that dog than the relationship between his human companions...

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Swamp Thing

The above trailer is hopelessly murky, but I had to post it because the voiceover kind of illustrates why I love the movie Swamp Thing. "Monsters and midgets!...An incredibly adventure that grows on you!" Surely, this is one of director Wes Craven's masterworks!

Now, I am a huge fan of the Alan Moore "Swamp Thing" comics; they're what got me into comics in the 80's. And while the movie has absolutely nothing to do with those comics, I think it is because of the movie that DC decided to revamp the series in the first place, so it at least deserves our thanks, if not our love.

And yeah, I do love it. I remember it being a really fun day at the movies. I think by the time we saw it on April 17th, it had moved to the second run theaters, (it opened in February), and we saw it at the 4 Star for a mere three bucks.

I'm pretty sure that at first, I was a little confused about it. Was it intentionally funny? Was I laughing at it, or with it? But by the time I saw it again, most likely on video, it was clear it wasn't a movie that was taking itself too seriously. I mean, you can practically see the zipper running up the Swamp Thing's back.

And it's that goofy humor that made me love it. Indeed, there is a midget monster in it, and there's a completely awesome moment when Swamp Thing starts to grow a new arm, after it's chopped off by bad guys, and during the process we see this tiny little twig hand start to pop out of his shoulder and make a fist.

Also, Adrienne Barbeau runs around in a wet shirt a lot, and what's not to love about that?

And I wasn't the only one who liked it. I remember watching Siskel and Ebert talk about the movie on their show, and I know they both loved it, even while they were cracking up about it. I can't find that original show, but they do talk about it in an episode about "Buried Treasures." I'd include the video here, but it can't be embedded without autoplay turned on, (annoying!), so go here to view the episode, and skip to the 18 minute mark to see the Swamp Thing discussion. (It also includes, right before that, some discussion of a previous Mulled Movie, The Wanderers.)

Only have a few things from my "book" for this one. First is a newspaper ad...

And the second is a couple of review clips, including another from "Trashola"...

I didn't get to re-watch the movie before posting this, but am happy to report it is available on Netflix Instant, and it's also available on Amazon as a cheap rental, (free to Prime customers). A re-watching is definitely in my future.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Escape From New York But In Space: Lockout

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

Lockout is a really bad title for a movie. I was pretty sure about this going in, since I couldn't even remember the title until I got to the theater, but I was positive about it being a crappy title after I saw the movie and still kept calling it Lockdown.

Are movie titles of late so boring so they can be easily translated for foreign markets? How I long for the days of awesome B-movies like Caged Heat, or The Weak and the Wicked.

And what's even worse about the title is it tells you nothing about the movie, aside from some vague notion that a prison might be involved. So, for those foreign markets looking to change it up, here are a few suggestions: How about Space Peril, or Space Prison Breakout, or Space Break!, or Snow In Space. Or just plain Escape From New York But In Space, because really, that's what this movie is.

Tell me if this plot sounds familiar: It's the future, and the old types of prisons are just plain passe. Now prisoners are placed into "stasis," (AKA frozen), and their bodies are held in huge orbiting prisons up in space. Unfortunately, things go haywire at the same time the President's daughter is visiting the prison on a "humanitarian" mission, (to make sure the prisoners aren't being used as lab rats). She's held hostage, and the only person who can save her is an ex CIA Agent named Snow.

So, the space prison subs for New York, Snake Plisken is now Snow, (Guy Pearce), and the President is now the President's daughter, (Maggie Grace). There's also a missing briefcase that plays a big part, although, just like in Escape From New York, it turns out to be nothing more than a MacGuffin.

And yet, even though there is nothing original about this movie, I liked it. I liked it from its first five minutes, when Snow is seen getting repeatedly punched in the face while mouthing off about his interrogator's wife. I continued to like it when a chase scene turned completely cartoonish, looking, literally, like something out of a video game. And I continued to like it once the setting changed to that space prison full of crazed criminals, headed by two Irish dudes with such thick accents I was desperately wishing for some closed captioning.

Yes, this is another movie in which some guy must save Maggie Grace, but thankfully in this one she's more than a quivering mass of female flesh, and actually knows how to shoot a gun and take a few punches herself.

But the real revelation here is Guy Pearce. I've just never really dug the guy, even in good movies like Memento and L.A. Confidential. He always seems so stiff and boring. But in Lockout he takes on the Snake Plisken/Han Solo role with aplomb, and manages to deliver all his smart-ass lines, (and really, almost every sentence out of his mouth is something clever or smack-filled), with expert comedic timing; a lesser actor would cause eye-rolling instead of laughter.

The whole thing ultimately feels like a foreign production that somehow got major U.S. distribution. There are a lot of international actors here, (Grace; Pearce; Peter Stomare; Vincent Regan; Lennie James), and it's based on "an original idea by Luc Besson," (although, that should probably read: "based on an idea Luc Besson had after watching Escape From New York"). With a better title, it could be one of those movies you'd see in a bargain stack at Amoeba, or a local rental place, take home, watch, and be pleasantly surprised by. But who's gonna give a DVD called Lockdown Lockout a second look?

Spoiler Free: The Cabin In the Woods

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

There's a lot of buzz surrounding The Cabin In the Woods, most centered on a "ZOMG DON'T SPOIL IT!!!" plea from publicists and fans. As such, I avoided as much as I could before seeing it, even fearing that the above trailer was giving away more than I might want to know.

Turns out, I was wrong about that trailer, (watch it without fear of major spoilage), and, in fact, I think The Cabin In the Woods would probably be completely enjoyable even if you go into it knowing everything it has up its sleeve, (a theory I hope to test when I see it for a second time). As it is, I was always a few steps ahead of the movie, but it still manages to throw in a few surprises, and even when predictable, it is never anything but completely entertaining.

That said, I'll do my best to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, but if you don't trust me, or really want to know NOTHING about the movie, stop reading now...

OK, first off, the whole movie is a dream, and Rosebud is Luke's father.

What? I told you to stop reading! Jeeze!

As the title suggests, this is another horror movie about a bunch of dumb kids who take a trip to a spooky cabin in the woods. At least, that's how it looks on the surface. But as is revealed within the first five minutes, (in a scene that includes the best title smash cut in a movie ever), there are bigger things at play here, and powers higher than some random zombies in the woods.

The college students fit your archetypal horror movie characters: There's the jock (played by Chris "Thor" Hemsworth); the brainy guy ("Grey's Anatomy"'s Jesse Williams); the stoner (Fran Kranz from "Dollhouse"); the party girl, (Anne Hutchison); and the virgin, (Kristen Connolly).

Along the way, they meet a requisite Creepy Guy, and if the cabin in the woods looks suspiciously like that cabin in the Evil Dead's woods, that's no accident. This is all supposed to look and feel very familiar. The fun comes in seeing how these cliches are turned on their heads, and how character does not always determine fate.

Ah, but is it fate? Revealed alongside these victims are two men, (played Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford), who seem to have a lot of control over these kids' lives. Like I said, these characters are introduced within the first few minutes of the movie, so I'm not giving anything away there. That this Cabin in the Woods is not your run of the mill horror movie cabin isn't the surprise. It's the who, why, and how of it all, which is slowly revealed over the course of the film, that is the real surprise.

The movie was written by Drew Goddard, (who also wrote Cloverfield) and Joss Whedon, and directed by Goddard. And of all the things Whedon has done post-TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," I think this comes the closest to matching that show's perfect blend of creeps, comedy, and character. This is a world in which Buffy Summers would feel right at home.

Whedon and Goddard have made a movie that is, essentially, about making and watching horror movies, and I think some might criticize it as being too clever for its own good. And as far as horror movies go, it's not terribly scary, (although it is pretty gory, and definitely deserves its R).

The Cabin's biggest success is in its humor, which always manages to stay firmly planted within the realms of horror movie genre. (There are so many terrifically horrible sight gags to be found, and to discuss them would spoil the fun, so let me just say one thing: mermen.) Ultimately, in its own meta way, it does resemble that other horror comedy, Scream.

But where Scream was commenting on one type of horror film, The Cabin In the Woods is about all horror films, humanity's ultimate need for cathartic violence, and--

Oh, but I've said too much already...

Monday, April 9, 2012

Richard Pryor Live On the Sunset Strip

For whatever reason, April 9th's movie completely slipped my mind, and thus this entry is showing up several days late. Fortunately, I don't really have a lot to say about Richard Pryor Live On the Sunset Strip, or my experience of seeing it. One thing that was enlightening was finding out I saw it at a theater I had forgotten even existed: The Metro II (later, the Mercury) on Union Street. It was smaller than the Metro, (also on Union Street), and located about two blocks away in a building that is now gone.

Anyway, there's no denying the movie is a classic in the stand-up comedy genre, a genre that seems mostly relegated to cable TV now. (What was the last hit stand-up movie? The Kings of Comedy?) It's probably best remembered for the extended bit he did about his freebasing accident, in which he caught on fire and ran down the street. So I'll leave you with a little of that.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Cat People

In 1982, there were a couple of movies I loved so much, I went to see them again and again. Cat People was one of them.

Now, Cat People is kind of a hard film to admit you love. I can understand seeing it and laughing at its cheesiness and complete implausibility; you either go along with it, and view it as a sort of adult fairy tale, or you don't. And if you don't, I get it, believe me.

But I did go along with it, and still do. Sure, watching it in recent years I am a little less able to look past its flaws, but I still find it extremely watchable, and will still willfully admit to loving it.

Since this is a movie I ended up seeing several more times over the course of the year, I think I'll break up my thoughts on it into several different posts. I also have a lot of ephemera related to the movie that I'll have to try and dig up, and hope to post that stuff too. So for today, I'll talk about the experience of seeing it for the first time.

On Saturday, April 3rd, 1982, my parents and I ventured out to the Plaza 1&2 Theater, which was by Serramonte in Colma. Even though it was a two-screen theater, it was pretty big, and had a parking lot, which was always an added bonus on a weekend. I'm pretty sure the theater wasn't very crowded, despite the movie being released the day before, (it wasn't exactly a blockbuster), but I do remember there were two women sitting behind us who had a lot to say about Annette O'Toole's naked breasts during the movie's swimming pool scene.

So, initial thoughts first: I knew I liked Nastassja (then "Nastassia") Kinski after seeing her in One From the Heart the month before, and she was just as watchable in Cat People. Indeed, I can't imagine anyone else doing the role justice; the character of Irena has to feel almost other-worldly; you can't place where she's from, but she certainly doesn't look or sound like someone you'd meet in every day life.

Pair an actress I already knew I liked, with a genre, horror, that I was a long-standing fan of, and you've got something twelve-year-old me was almost guaranteed to love. Set the thing in New Orleans--a city I had, at that point, not been to, but held fascination for me because of family ties to the area--and bingo; I was hooked to the point of near obsession.

I'll get into some other possible explanations for loving it so much in future posts. I will say that the purchasing of things related to the movie began right after we left the theater, as we drove to a record store on Geary Street and bought the theme song single by David Bowie. (I believe the actual soundtrack LP, which I would also end up buying, hadn't been released yet.) You gotta love a song that has leopard roars in the mix!

I added quite a few newspaper ads and reviews to my "Genre Book," so let's end this with a look at those. (As always, click the images to see larger versions.) In May, I'll more to say about the movie, so stay tuned!

Here's the first part of a review from the East Bay Express...

You can read the rest of the review here, along with some other shorter pieces and listings, including another from Trashola.

This is an interview with director Paul Schrader from BAM Magazine (remember that?!). I'll have to put it in here in four parts since the original clipping is pretty large...