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Halloween Scene: Fear No Evil (1981)

July 24, 2015

fear_no_evilWhen my buddy Rickey recommends I check out a movie, I do it. He also loved Housebound and also recommended I check out the excellent The Shortcut among many, many others over the years. So when he handed me a stack of horror DVDs, I decided to start immediately with Frank LaLoggia’s Fear No Evil.

I’d never heard of this film before, but it’s got elements of The Omen, Carrie, Night Of The Living Dead and even Grease. That might sound like rip-off-central, but the end result is a strangely unique, dark and creepy movie featuring the reincarnation of Lucifer as a high school nerd who raises the dead to help in his evil mission with a soundtrack featuring The Ramones, The Sex Pistols and The Talking Heads!

I went in knowing absolutely nothing about this film and unfamiliar with just about everyone involved, but was surprised by this tale of biblical epic that also marks LaLoggia’s very first directorial effort. I watched a DVD, but I can easily imagine a Blu-ray version that would look absolutely stunning (assuming there’s a good print bopping around somewhere).

Overall, there were just so many elements that I enjoyed about this film, that I’m just going to go through them for your reading pleasure. The main kid who plays Andrew-Lucifer (Stefan Arngrim) is just perfect in this part. He’s super weird and disconcerting, maybe a bit over-the-top, but we all knew a kid like that in high school. Speaking of the setting, it feels a little Grease-y (the main guy wears a leather jacket, his girlfriend an orange Pink Lady-esque shiny jacket). In fact, the boyfriend is a real piece of complicated work, with a macho pose, but an incredibly androgynous look. He even kisses Andrew in the shower in front of all of his friend at one point in one of the more surprising moments that could be unpacked for days. Oh, and again later after Andrew makes him grow breasts.

Other scenes that were surprising, but not in an exploitative way, include one where a baby starts bleeding during baptism, the use of a dog for an evil spell and the most bonkers dodge ball scene of all time. I’m not getting too far into the details of the film because I don’t quite remember everything, but I am very excited about it and want the world to get in on this train. Do yourself a favor and go check Fear No Evil out as soon as possible (or wait until a dark and stormy night).

Parks & Recreation Is Awesome

July 23, 2015

parks and recreation castI sure have fallen for Parks and Recreation. This is a show that I went from writing off to enjoying to abandoning to now mainlining on Netflix. Thanks to a bad start that went way too The Office, my wife and I weren’t fans of the first few episodes. Eventually we came back around and watched chunks of various early seasons but fell off thanks to the many time slot changes and other shows popping up we were more into. Now, I can’t think of a better show on television (or that was on TV).

I know a lot of people call this the Golden Age of TV because shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad and True Detective are telling these amazing, complex, dark stories, but the shows that I continue to be drawn to all revolve around friendship. I realized not long ago that, instead of watching mean teenagers get bumped off in horror films or henchmen get face-kicked in action films, comedies make me feel better when I’m down. Sure the laughs in Parks & Rec, but I can’t think of a show that’s a better example of what real, honest human relationships should and can be like than this one.

As a work-from-home dad who spends the majority of his time behind a keyboard partially below ground whose friends all have regular jobs in other parts of the state and country (who is also super-shy, but thrives on human interaction), it can be difficult for me being so isolated. I love my wife and kids and my folks moved here not long ago which was an amazing sacrifice on their part, but you start to miss your friends and wonder if you still even have connections to those people when you mostly exist to them as a person on an email chain.

Recently, I had the chance to be a good friend and was helped out by another. A friend-since-high school’s brother passed away a few weeks ago and I drove to Ohio to be there at the wake and the funeral before coming right back home. It was an important thing for me to do because being friends isn’t just hanging out, drinking beer and telling old stories, it’s being there for the hard times as well. Thanks to the support of my wife and parents, I was able to make this happen and I’m glad I did. Another longtime friend and his wife were nice enough to let me stay on their couch the one night I was in town, so the circle kept on going. This past weekend, another set of good friends came up for a visit. I can’t even remember the last time just the four of us hung out. It was a great recharge for my system.

Anyway, this is all a long-winded way of saying that friendship has been on my mind a lot lately and Parks & Rec exemplifies how I feel about friendship in all of it’s many forms. First of all you’ve got Amy Poehler’s Leslie who is such an amazing, positive person that she actually makes everyone around her better. Her peers and even superiors see this and do their best to help her in any way they can. They don’t just vote for her when she runs for city counsel, they run her campaign. You really get to see this intense friendship these people have formed in the Season 5 episode “Ben’s Parents” when just about everyone from the office threatens Ben (Adam Scott) harm if he hurts Leslie.

But, it’s not just that. Like I said above, being a friend involves wading into the bad times with them, but also moving way outside of your comfort zone to help them. The loner April (Aubrey Plaza) participates in government not just because Leslie and other characters believe in her, but because she knows they would help her out. Ron, the grizzled anarchist/libertarian often times breaks his rule of staying out of peoples’ business because he knows that no one has a bigger hear than Leslie. Or Tom (Aziz Ansari). Or Andy. And, at the same time, he’s grown a bond with April thanks to their shared interest in not liking most people. We also get to see the real talks that people have when they’re this close. Anne (Rashida Jones) might not have it together as much as Leslie does, but she is often the voice of reason when the overly enthusiastic government employ starts to lose her way.

The romantic relationships are also some of the best around. They’re real and complicated and feel earned even though you don’t necessarily spend entire seasons wondering if the people will get together or not. I worried that Andy (Chris Pratt) and April might be rushing into things too quickly when they got married, but the work so well together, it’s amazing! And how great is it watching Ben and Leslie? Sure there was some of that will-they-won’t-they stuff, but most of it felt real and honest instead of “Uh oh, Ross came back from Europe with a girlfriend just as Rachel realized she loved him!” (I love Friends, but boy did that relationship tumble around like a drunken gymnast.)

Better yet, those relationships have grown and changed over the seasons (I’m towards the beginning of five as I write this). If you saw a first season episode with April being snotty and then a fourth season one of her being nice to Chris (Rob Lowe), you might think the character had been radically altered for some reason, but watching the whole thing shows you all the good things that she’s done that have changed her in various ways. Some people balk at the idea of changing. They think that however they are is the way they are and that’s that, but my parents instilled in me pretty early on that people go through life and a lot of different things can happen that result in changes. Basically, nobody’s perfect, but there are ways to better yourself and P&R shows that without being preachy or even that obvious about it.

All of this might sound like I’m talking about a serious show, but it’s also one of the funniest around. How can you not like Ron? Or cringe-laugh at all of Jerry’s nonsense. Or just love (and pity) Tom at the same time? I laugh so loud at some Andy-related incidents that I worry I might wake the kids up.

And a lot of those laughs come from the show’s own sense of continuity and history. I’ve always been drawn to narratives that give readers or viewers or listeners little easter eggs. The world of Pawnee Indiana is filled with insane sugar companies, wildly literal newcasters, the oddest assortment of residents this side of Twin Peaks and people who adore a tiny horse simply for existing. These more out-there elements get balanced so well with the heart-based ones that you almost don’t notice. The little nods here and there to previous storylines and episodes probably would have gone unnoticed by me were I watching this series when it was on, but I’m catching and appreciating a lot of them this time around.

All in all, I’ve had an amazing time re-watching this show and can’t wait to see how it ends. I’ve seen that the last season isn’t on Netflix Instant yet, so I just added them to my disc queue and will pop them up top when the time comes.

Gotham Trade Post: Gotham Academy & Batgirl

July 22, 2015

gotham academy volume 1 welcome to gotham academy Gotham Academy Vol. 1: Welcome to Gotham Academy (DC)
Written by Becky Cloonan & Brenden Fletcher, drawn by Karl Kerschel with Mingjue Helen Chen
Collects Gotham Academy #1-6

A week or so ago I went on another library requesting spree. I wound up with something like eight New 52 trades that I was curious about. Unfortunately, I didn’t find much to like about three of them and skipped a few others. Not feeling like ragging on anyone in particular, I was glad to find that I enjoyed the first volumes of Gotham Academy and the new Batgirl.

These books work well together not just because they’re both set in Gotham and were launched around the same time, but also deal with far different tones than you might see in Scott Snyder’s Batman (a book I love). There are also a lot of little connections between the two, like the mention of the band Ashes On Sunday in GA that winds up playing a big part in Batgirl and the eventual Black Canary series (which is written by Fletcher). Read more…

Halloween Scene: The Tomb Of Ligeia (1964)

July 9, 2015

the-tomb-of-ligeiaLast week the weather turned gray and all I wanted to do was sit down and watch a marathon of Val Lewton, Universal Monster and Vincent Price movies. Of course, I have two small kids, so I only got to watch one of them, but it was still a great experience. A few months ago I got my hands on the excellent Scream Factory Vincent Price Collection II set and have slowly been making my way through it. As it happens, I’ve only seen a few of these movies before — House On Haunted Hill, Dr. Phibes Rides Again and Last Man On Earth — so the others have been a nice surprise, like Tomb Of Ligeia.

I knew nothing about this film going in aside from the main star, but it also happens to be directed by Roger Corman and adapts an Edgar Allen Poe story. This was Corman’s last Poe film and, instead of shooting all of it in the studio, he actually went out and used the gorgeous crumbling British abbey you can see in the film. This not only opens the world up, but also brightens it and adds a sense that everything’s about to crumble around the main characters.

The story follows Price’s Verden Fell, a widower who hangs out in a mansion next to the crumbling abbey. His dead wife Ligeia said that she would never really die, but that doesn’t stop ol’ Verden from flirting with the delightful Rowena (Elizabeth Shepherd). The two have a whirlwind relationship, that ends in marriage and a honeymoon. While away, the super-serious Verden lightens up (and even takes off the strange sunglasses he’s always wearing), but upon returning he goes back to his old, strange ways. The longer they’re in the mansion, the more Rowena realizes that it might be haunted, the pet cat is a jerk and her husband is clearly up to some craziness that most likely involves his seemingly deceased former love. All of this comes to a head at the end of the film in a delightfully crazy manner.

At 82 minutes, Ligeia moves at a quick clip and covers quite a bit of ground in a short time while also taking time to show off some beautiful scenery before returning to the darkness within the castle (and Verden). I highly recommend giving this movie your full attention if you’re going to watch because it’s very easy to miss a few key details here and there. You might think the horse riding scene or long shots of the honeymoon are going to take a while, but as soon as they lull you into wondering what’s happening on Twitter, you’ve already missed a major explanation. I rewound a few times thanks to brief distractions from my phone and am glad I did because otherwise I would have been pretty lost.

As far as the Blu-ray transfer goes, this one looks spectacular, enhanced by the real locations used to shoot about half of the film. You really get to see that abbey in all it’s creepy glory. The pops of red from the flowers and blue and purple from the candles can all be properly seen and wondered about thematically. I haven’t listened to the commentaries (one by Corman, the other by Shepherd) but I do enjoy the intros and outros that Price recorded for this and some of the other films back in the 80s. They were part of a PBS Price marathon series and the kind of awesome find that Shout/Scream Factory has become famous for in the film fan community. Kudos to them for that and for this amazing set. I hope to get my hands on the first one at some point, but am also looking forward to watching The Raven and the rest of these movies in this rad-looking format.

Toy Commercial Tuesday: Jurassic Park

July 7, 2015

With Jurassic World hitting the big screen a few weeks ago, I’ve been thinking a lot about the original film and how I saw it with my cousin in the theater by ourselves (I didn’t realize you could go to movies without your parents up to that point). I love that film and still marvel at the bits and pieces I see on TV (I’m waiting to fully re-watch it when I get back to my Chronological Spielberg project).

As with most blockbusters of the 90s, my mind quickly moves from the film to the toys that surrounded it which seamlessly brings us to this commercial for Jurassic Park action figures. I think it’s kind of hilarious how they reframe the theme of the movie from humans surviving a deadly experience that they basically created through their own arrogance into “let’s make these dinosaurs be nice to each other!”

I definitely remember these toys hitting shelves, but never picked any up myself. Though I loved this movie, I was never a dinosaur kid and must admit that the blood-and-bone revealing wound sections were more of a turn off than a draw. Still, if memory serves, these dinosaur toys were reused later on down the line and sold in gift shops thanks to their accuracy. Having written that statement, I could not find proof of its accuracy on the google, but I’m leaving it in for now.

Grant Morrison Trade Post: Flash – Emergency Stop & The Human Race

June 24, 2015

Flash Emergency StopMuch like my tour through the works of John Carpenter, my look at Grant Morrison’s DC Comics work came to a screeching halt last year. After writing about Animal Man, the first Doom Patrol collection (which doesn’t really count) and Aztek I intended to move on to the run on Flash he did with Mark Millar, but just didn’t get to it. I want to get back in action, so here we go!

The Flash: Emergency Stop (DC)
Written by Grant Morrison & Mark Millar, drawn by Paul Ryan
Collects Flash #130-135

Okay, so TECHNICALLY, Morrison launched JLA before he and Millar started working on Flash, but since this is a smaller run, I’m tackling it first. To be even more accurate, he had already finished up Aztek and done a year of JLA issues when Flash finally hit. This is actually pretty clear in the story because Wally west specifically mentions the time he and the gang fought the Key in JLA #7-9. I only mention that because part of doing these posts is to look at how connected all of Morrison’s DC books are.

Before getting into the actual stories, I just have to say how much I love this era of Flash. I came to know him as a horn dog jokester in Justice League Europe and saw him grow and mature into a family man over the years. I know he’s a fictional character, but seeing that kind of growth and depth doesn’t come often. At one point I had a subscription to Flash and tried to keep up on his adventures. These Morrison and Millar issues come right in the middle of Mark Waid’s epic run on the book (which he would pick up after they were done). It was a fun time to watch a good hero, do amazing things.

Going back to the story itself, this one starts off with a story about a killer supervillain suit, moves into the return of Mirror Master (who Grant introduced in Animal Man), a Jay Garrick solo story and the third part of a crossover with Green Lantern and Green Arrow. The first two are a lot of fun that take Silver Age-like stories and tell them in a more modern manner. They both also introduce countdown elements that quicken your pace as you read through the book, a nice trick if you can get it to work. The Jay one is a pure love letter not just to Golden Age heroes, but to amazing parent/grandparent figures (if you don’t want Jay Garrick as a mentor after reading this issue, you’re just not well) and the last gets into that very Grant headspace that looks at how a world filled with superheroes would actually work. In this case, we’re talking about law and the court system. I can’t be 100% sure because it’s been so long, but it felt like he hit on some of these themes later in the Seven Soldiers Bulletwoman story, but I’ll let you know when I get there.

The first time I read the Suit story — actually back when these issues came out circa 1997 — I thought it was a little corny. But, looking back now, I realize I was missing the context. Morrison and Millar were clearly going for a horror movie theme put on top of a superhero story. Once I latched onto that idea, I had a lot more fun with it. This story also breaks the Flash’s legs which means he wraps himself in Speed Force to create a new sort that he eventually makes look like his usual suit (though I liked the yellow one myself).

flash human raceFlash: The Human Race (DC)
Written by Grant Morrison & Mark Millar, drawn by Paul Ryan, Ron Wagner, Pop Mahn, Joshua Hood & Mike Parobeck
Collects Flash #136-141, Secret Origins #50

This second book was only half co-written by Morrison, but it continues many of the themes and ideas established in the first and is generally a solid read. The first story, “The Human Race,” finds Wally racing his imaginary friend from childhood to keep the Earth from being destroyed. After playing along for a trip through time that shows us the destruction of Kyrpton and caveman Guardians of the Galaxy, Flash uses his brains instead of his feet to figure out a way to save the day. The second features the first appearance of The Black Flash (the Grim Reaper for Speedsters) who takes someone important to Wally, but comes back for more later on. Both stories continue that Silver Age-but-updated feel that takes seemingly bonkers ideas and puts weight behind them because we’ve come to care about these characters so much.

Alright, let’s get into themes. Morrison loves legacy heroes and that shows on just about every page of these books. Back in the 90s, Wally West was always hanging out with a group of younger and older heroes making him the center of a super cool, super family that also included his awesome girlfriend/fiance/wife Linda Park (I actually squealed when she appeared on The Flash this season). I loved this element and it’s clear that the writers did as well. But the legacy aspect also carries through with the villains as well with new guys picking up the old weapons and making themselves Rogues. These new relationships also showcase how different things are from when Barry was alive and the bad guys didn’t seem so bad. The idea of what makes heroes and villains chose their paths is also a constant. Why is Flash a hero? Why does Mirror Master do what he does? Why can’t Jay let the Thinker pass away? We don’t get the answers laid out for us, but through actions we get an idea of why.

Morrison is also known for putting himself in his stories. He actually appears in Animal Man and has said he modeled Invisibles‘ King Mob after himself, but he’s a little less obvious this time around. I posit that the very Scottish Mirror Master is a stand in for the writer (or possibly both writers). Why? Well, first off, no one understands Scots like Scots. But also because this villain appears to put the hero through his paces without really saying why and isn’t that the whole point of writing corporately owned superhero comics?

I mentioned above that I read this book before JLA because it’s shorter, but after finishing, I’m glad I did it this way for another reason. First off, I’ll be able to keep an eye out for any ideas that cross pollinate (like the costume I also mentioned above). It’s also nice to see how he handles two very different kinds of teams. The Flash group is a family, while the JLA is a professional group of heroes. He got to play in both of those sandboxes at the same time which must have been gratifying. It’s also nice to see him be able to take one of the characters he played with in the widesweeping super-opera that was JLA and drill down more into the character. He’d go on to do this to great effect with Superman and Batman so it’s cool to see this earlier experiment in action. Now? On to JLA!

The Chronological Carpenter: Christine (1983)

June 22, 2015

ChristineJohn Carpenter was a machine in the late 70s/early 80s. Between 1978 and and 1984 he made eight movies, no small task for anyone, especially someone of his caliber. The second to last movie in that streak was Christine, an adaptation of Stephen King’s novel of the same name, which also came out in 1983. It’s about a car with a mind of its own and the dweeby kid it turns into a 1950s greaser. Apparently, I didn’t like it very much when I first watched it back in 2010.

I had a much better time with the film this time around. That first time, I didn’t really know anything about it and wasn’t very into the idea of a killer car movie, but this time, I was psyched about watching a John Carpenter Killer Car movie. I only remembered a few bits and pieces from that first viewing (and none of the negative feelings I had after that first viewing) and actually had a really solid experience this time around.

stephen king christineFor what it’s worth, I haven’t read the source material and will not be comparing the film to that (maybe in a later Book Vs. Movie post down the line, but not any time soon). So, I’m going solely by the film itself and what it gives us. One aspect that must have slipped my mind the first time I watched it was the fact that the main action of the story takes place in 1978. That bit of information goes a long way to explain why parts of the story might sound silly, because it’s a person (whether King or Carpenter) going back into their memories and building on those.

As it turns out I just read Chuck Klosterman’s essay on the film Dazed And Confused in the Criterion booklet a week or so back. In that he talks about memory and how it plays into filmmaking and storytelling. He wrote: “Dazed and Confused is not a movie about how things were; Dazed and Confused is a movie about how things are remembered. This film doesn’t illustrate what it was actually like to be in semi­rural Texas in 1976, but I’m sure it evokes how that time and place must retrospectively feel to any­one who was actually there.” I think that’s at play quite a bit in Christine in the way the characters are handled and the way it was shot. I didn’t get that the first time I watched and felt like part of it came of as lame or old fashioned, but I think it’s a function of memory playing out on the screen.

christine-USTake our main character Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon) for instance. He’s a nerdy dweeb in the same vein as that kid from Grease. Heck, even his name immediately conjures up images of Happy Days. He’s a big glasses-wearing nerd who only has one friend — a nice jock played by John Stockwell named Dennis — and that’s about it. He’s basically helpless, gets threatened by predatory schoolmates and has parents who give him far too much trouble considering he’s a straight-A student with no life. Gordon plays him perfectly and continues to do so as his new car transforms him from powerless nobody into someone you should definitely not mess with. Now that I think about it, maybe Gordon’s near-perfect greaser looks are what made them go a bit over the top with the glasses and whatnot in the beginning, kind of like putting Rachel Lee Cook in overalls and glasses in She’s All That (weird reference, I know). Then again, I bet his overbearing mom wouldn’t let him out of the house wearing much else.

Last time I bagged on the kills in the film, noting that they seemed slow and easily avoided. It’s funny, that thought didn’t even cross my mind this time around (no, I didn’t read my review before this viewing). In fact, the one where the car smashes its way into a thin alley to kill the guy actually made me squirm a bit this time because it showed just how dedicated this car was to getting revenge. By the way, am I the only one who noticed how The Crow parallels this movie? I’m sure it’s just a coincidence, but that made me chuckle when the “hero” of the movie started hunting down the gang of jerks who wronged it.

In a lot of ways, Christine feels like even even bigger step away from Carpenter’s usual films than something like Escape From New York. Even with its supernatural leanings and the appearance of EFNY‘s Harry Dean Stanton, this one just feels out there. First off, we’re not really meant to like Arnie. We’re supposed to be with him in the beginning and feel sorry for him because he gets taken over or influenced, but unlike Snake or Laurie Strode, this is a “hero” who turns into a villain before our eyes. Meanwhile, the secondary lead steps up and becomes the real hero of the story. Now that I think about it Dennis is a lot like Laurie, he’s super nice and a little quiet, but nowhere near as mousey. This is also one of his few full-on adaptations even though it reportedly takes liberties with the story.

At the end of the day, I like Christine, but it took me a while to get there and understand if people who love Carpenter’s earlier horror films came out of it wondering what they had just seen. This one might take a little more thinking and contextualizing to really dive into the horror underneath. On the surface, the idea of a haunted car is pretty silly, right? But, look just a little bit below the surface and you’re talking about a mode of transportation that leads to tens of thousands of deaths a year. Cars are and can be very scary, but we treat them as these rights of passage, these simple things, but really they’re multi-ton behemoths being lead around by easily distracted drivers who could, literally at every turn, shift from cruising machine to combustion engine-fueled battering ram. Cars might not be haunted, but they’re dangerous because of the people who drive them and the miniscule and major things that can happen to them.

Up next we have a film I’ve owned for years, but never actually watched: Starman!

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