Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Quest For Fire, Bye Bye Brazil

Day two of the weekend movie marathon included another horror movie, a movie I couldn't stand, and a movie that was probably picked by my mother.

I think this was a first-time viewing of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but am not quite sure...I can say that the movie didn't give me nightmares, or freak the shit out of me, but I was impressed by it. Its low-budget gives it an all-around creepy feeling, and that house really looks like a crazy-ass place you might actually stumble upon after taking a wrong-turn in Texas.

It didn't leave quite the impression on me that Halloween did, but that's probably because there aren't any really developed characters in it. There's no Laurie Strode to root for. But it still remains one of the best horror movies ever.

Quest for Fire was a big snore as far as I was concerned; I just thought a whole movie in which people grunted was a waste of time. As it is, I think the only thing I remember about it is the cave-people-getting-it-on moments. Of course.

Which brings us to Bye Bye Brazil, which I'm pretty sure I slept through most of. My loss?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Targets, The Night Andy Came Home, Swamp Thing (2)

In what what must have been a weekend of non-stop movie watching, horror movies were the choice for Saturday, November 20th.

I've written about Swamp Thing already, and once again, the fact that this was on VHS for rental within the same year it was released in theaters debunks my theory that movies took a lot longer to reach the rental market back in the day. What is NOT debunked, however, is how insanely expensive it was to actually BUY movies back then, with tapes going for something like 80 bucks on average. Nuts!

The night's other two films, Targets and The Night Andy Came Home are two low budget horror movies, although one is probably better known than the other.

That one is Targets, which was Peter Bogdanovich's first movie, and an effective little thriller loosely based on the Charles Whitman shootings at the University of Texas.

The scariest thing about the movie? It is still totally relevant today...

The other movie, The Night Andy Came Home, AKA Deathdream, AKA Dead of Night, was written by Alan Ormsby, who also wrote Cat People, which is probably why I chose to watch it. It was directed by Bob Clark, the man behind A Christmas Story--and another classic Christmas movie, Black Christmas--and is based on the old story "The Monkey's Paw." In this one, parents of a son killed in Vietnam wish him back to life, but of course, that kind of thing comes with its drawbacks...

I actually don't really remember much about the movie, aside from it having a kind of spooky soundtrack, but I think it was my first introduction to the "Monkey's Paw" story, and I certainly noticed the parallels about a year later, when reading Stephen King's Pet Semetary....

Saturday, November 10, 2012


While it has absolutely nothing to do with the holidays, for years, and even to this day, I think of Creepshow as a holiday movie, simply because it came out at the end of 1982, and I would end up watching it during Christmas breaks for several years after.

Creepshow is also one of those movies I have a distinct memory of seeing, and yet, the date seems weird.  If we did see it on November 10th, that was a Wednesday, which means we went on a school night. Which wasn't unheard of, but still seems odd.

But I definitely remember what theater it was at: the Serra, which was just off 280, before Serramonte. It was a great single-screen theater, but had a notoriously dim projector bulb, which was a bit of a problem when it came to horror movies.

Since the movie is five stories in one, (six, if you count the surrounding story of the kid and the comic book), of course some segments are going to better than others. I think my favorite is probably "The Crate," owing a lot to Adrienne Barbeau's brilliantly obnoxious Wilma--sorry, "Billie"--a woman just screaming to be eaten by a crate monster.

I also really like "Something to Tide You Over," which features Leslie Nielsen as a very affective bad guy. If you haven't seen the movie, maybe don't watch this clip, as it's the end of the segment. But I think it really illustrates what a beautiful horror movie Creepshow is, with its use of bright colors, emulating comic book panels and comic coloring.

Even the weaker stories, like "The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill," have their moments, even if Stephen King's bad acting almost ruins it.

Yep, Creepshow is a movie I grew to love even more as an adult, and one I could watch over and over again, and never grow tired of.

Friday, November 9, 2012

A Huge Downer: Skyfall

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

I have a complicated relationship with the James Bond movies. For me, no Bond will ever top Sean Connery, as I prefer a suave Bond over a Bourne Bond, and there's no one suaver than Sean. I also have an intense love of the era those first Bonds were set in. But I've realized those two things are, really, the only things I really like about the James Bond franchise, and even taking that into account, I've never wanted to watch a James Bond movie more than once.

When you get down to it, they're always very long, and...kinda boring. There are no real surprises. He's never going to die, not really. So right there, the stakes are pretty low. And all the films tend to follow the same plot outlines: Opening sequence; introduction of Villain; introduction of Bond Girl; sex; fighting; defeat of bad guy; ironic ending.

Skyfall is an attempt to raise those low stakes, by bringing "depth" to Bond, and putting a much-loved character at the center of danger.

It begins with the requisite action sequence. Bond is chasing a bad guy who has stolen a top secret list of the identities of hundreds of undercover agents. The chase eventually finds them on the top of train, with Bond manning a bulldozer as a weapon. (Yes, ON the train.) The scene ends, with Bond OMG MAYBE DEAD (he's not dead), and gives way to one of the better post-Connery credit sequences. (And I'd put Adele's theme song up there in the top five of Bond songs. For those who say it sounds too much like other Bond songs, all I can say is: Exactly.)

The crucial list is lost, and eventually the owner threatens to expose the identifies of undercover operatives around the world. He also seems to have a personal vendetta against the head of M16, M herself, (Judi Dench, back for more), and after an explosion rocks M16 headquarters, M's future in the agency, and the very existence of the agency itself, comes into question.

Bond, having come back from the dead, (this isn't a spoiler; it's a JAMES BOND movie), is assigned to the case, even though his abilities aren't exactly up to par after months on a bender consisting of women, scorpions, and Heineken. He's tired, physically and mentally, and this close to muttering "I'm too old for this shit."

Javier Bardem is the villain, Silva, a bleached blond computer wiz, who is also an ex-spy who used to work under M, and he's pretty sure she betrayed him. (It's very telling how everyone refers to her as "M'am," but it comes out sounding like "Mum.")

The best Bond villains are the most ridiculous ones, and Javier Bardem knows this. His Silva is so over-the-top, the only thing missing is a white cat and a moat filled with sharks.

There's no doubt the Daniel Craig Bond movies have been a shot in the arm for the franchise. And I understand this was a necessity to bring the series to the 21st century; Craig's Bond is the toughest, most badass of the Bonds.

But I still miss the Bond of yore. For Connery's Bond, charisma was his weapon of choice, and when he was able to shoot the bad guy, or get out of a jam, it was almost an afterthought. Craig's Bond is pure wiry, sweaty, vein-popping, fighting machine; when he's trying to lay on the charm, that feels like an afterthought.

So, I suppose one's Bond preference boils down to one's preference for watching ass-kicking, or martini-swilling. But even with all that aside, even if Sean Connery was magically transformed into his 1960s self again, and back to play this Bond, I would still have some major issues with Skyfall's plot, and the treatment of some of its characters. To discuss would be a major spoiler, so I'll just say, something happens in it that makes everything that happens before that event, completely pointless.

Also, the movie is 143 minutes long. That's too many minutes! For every stunningly-shot fight sequence, (and director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins provide some beauts, including a breathtaking scene in a Shanghai skyscraper lit by neon signs), there's an equally dull scene of Bond sadly walking down a beach, or struggling to catch his breath. Plus, there's only one real Bond girl--Severine, beautifully played by Bérénice Marlohe--and she disappears much too soon.

Even with the appearance of a beloved icon from the original films, the addition of some witticisms from Bond, and a fight that happens in a Komodo dragon pit, this Bond is a huge downer. Some may prefer the realism of this incarnation. But I'll take gun fights in tuxedos, women with ridiculous names, and Sean Connery's Scottish lisp over it any day.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Eating Raoul

I think I had a pretty sophisticated sense of humor for a twelve-year-old, but I think even the most worldly of pre-teens would have a problem with the movie Eating Raoul.

So why would I (or my parents, more specifically) decide to go see it? The fact that Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov were its stars and creators, and were both in Rock n Roll High School, which I loved, was probably the biggest contributing factor. So, we went to go see it at the Bridge theater at the beginning of November.

Alas, their presence didn't help me like the movie, which is kind of a like an even weirder version of Sweeney Todd: Woronov and Bartel play a prudish couple who wants to open a restaurant but can't raise the money. They start to lure "swingers," (the sex variety, not the 1990's Vince Vaughn variety) to their apartment to kill them and steal their money. It gets considerably more ridiculous than that, and is filled with a lot of black humor, and low budget filmmaking.

Because it left such a bad impression on me back then, I never really bothered to watch it again as an adult. I wouldn't waste a rental on it now, but if it ever pops up on cable, I might give it one last try...