Weekend Roundup

2008-11-10
5:12:26 pm

Wow, what a weekend. It was kind of busy with a wedding and both my football teams losing, but I was also able to squeeze in far more movies than I should have.

On Friday, Em went to bed early, so I ran up to Blockbuster and did a trade in for a double feature of Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi (1992) and Desperado (1995). I’d seen Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico before, but had never seen the original piece of the Mexico Trilogy, plus I’m a sucked for a 2-for1 and traded it in. I did not know that Mariachi is completely in Spanish and it seems as though the version I had rented didn’t have an English dub, but it did have an awesome commentary by Rodriguez. So I listened to that and put subtitles on and enjoyed the heck out of myself. Turns out he made the movie for $7,000 and most of that cost went towards film. He worked with mostly no crew and local people who’d never acted before. And while I can’t understand what they’re saying on screen, they really seemed natural. Rodriguez gives a play by play of how he did everything on screen which is super informative and then, in the special features, offers up a segment called “10 Minute Film School” showcasing how he did some of the more complex stunts and basic stuff like shooting scenes with editing in mind. I’ve never been to film school, but I feel like I got a heck of an education from just listening to the commentary. It was worth the rental for the feeling of “heck, I can do this too.” Who wants to make a movie with me?

So, I was pretty hyped up after Mariachi and put Desperado on immediately after. It definitely looks and feels like a different animal with it’s slicker look, bigger actors and crazier action sequences, but Rodriguez maintains the feel of the original which is impressive. This time Antonio Banderas plays El Mariachi and Salma Hayek plays his love interest. You’ve also got Quentin Tarantino, Cheech Marin, Steve Buscemi and Danny Trejo (my personal favorite interviewee so far). What stuck in my head from my previous viewing of Desperado was how bad ass it was. And that still holds up as Banderas leaps around shooting dudes from all kinds of awesome camera angles. I also love how cool the guitar case full of weapons is. It’s like Rodney Dangerfield’s golf bag from Caddyshack 2! Anyway, I also really dug the final scene where Mariachi calls in his boys who also have guitar cases concealing weapons (machine guns and a rocket launcher!). It’s an awesome revenge story with tons of action and plenty of bad ass characters walking around looking bad ass, but none as bad ass as Mariachi. BAM!

After that I was pretty exhausted (it was 3AM), so I went to bed. The next day Em took a nap in the afternoon and I started tinkering with my VCR and actually got the dumb thing to start working again which meant I could watch some of the tapes I’ve picked up at work and garage sales lately. So I popped Don’t Answer the Phone (1980) on. It wasn’t very good. The story follows a serial killer as he calls in to a radio psychologist and taunts her. The video tape quality added to the atmosphere of the film, but it was overall just kind of uncomfortable and I didn’t even both finishing it. What I did find interesting was the fact that we as the audience spent a good deal of time with the killer even when he wasn’t killing. We see him walking along the street and calling into the radio show. I’ve often thought it would be interesting to see a slasher movie done like this, where you really get to see things from the killer’s perspective. If Don’t Answer the Phone is any indicator, maybe it’s not such a good idea.

After giving up on that flick, I still had a little more time, so I popped in F/X2 (1991), which is a tape I grabbed from Em’s parents when they were cleaning out all the tapes. They used to own a video store back in the day, so I can only assume it’s a leftover from those days (how I wish I was around when they were getting rid of their boxes and boxes of movies!). I actually thought F/X2 was a horror movie, so I was confused when I couldn’t find it in my Creature Features book. It turns out that it’s more of an action thriller than a horror movie, though. Bryan Brown (Cocktail!) stars as a Hollywood effects man who gave up the game after the events of the first movie (which I haven’t seen). This time, the woman he’s dating’s ex husband asks him to help out with a case (making him look like a woman), but it turns out that the ex gets killed and Bryan stumbles upon a much bigger plot involving cops killing cops, mobsters and the Vatican. Bryan calls in his buddy from the previous flick Brian Dennehy and now they’re on the case. It’s a fairly standard plot from here, but what I really liked about the movie is how Brown uses his crazy special effects talents to go after the bad guys. At one point, a dude breaks into his house to kill him, but Brown’s able to slip into this motion control suit that coincides with a robot clown, so anything Brown does, the clown does. Then there’s this amazingly hilarious fight scene with Brown and the clown vs. the assassin. There’s also all kinds of craziness at the end. Definitely worth checking out if you want to see the kind of movie that will never get made nowadays, one with a sense of humor about itself, but also takes itself seriously.

The aforementioned wedding interrupted my movie watching (it’s okay, I forgive them). On Sunday, I caught part of Bad Boys II (2003) on TV and you know what? That movie’s awesome. I think Michael Bay gets a bad rap. I don’t know much about the guy aside from what he puts on the screen, but I definitely appreciate his love of big crazy movies with lots of action and explosions. Some people call him a hack for that, but I don’t buy it. I’ve liked Armageddon, The Rock, Bad Boys I and II (though definitely II better) and Transformers. I haven’t seen The Island yet and I didn’t really like Pearl Harbor at the time, but would definitely give it another shot. I didn’t get to see the entirety of BBII (I’ve seen it before though) and man, there are some awesome scenes in there. The 360 degree scene of Will Smith on one side of a room and dudes with machine guns on the other. The chase scene where the bad guys throw cars at them. You can’t beat that kind of stuff. And, I didn’t get to see it this time, but the absolute disregard for human life while driving through Cuban homes! This is what movies used to be like back in the 70s and 80s and it’s awesome to see that again. (NOTE: I in no way support the ACTUAL disregard of human life in Cuba, just in the movies!) Also, I forgot how cool Will Smith can be when he wants to (and when the camera angels make him look so). There were a lot of fun similarities between how Rodriguez shot Banderas and how Bay shot Smith. Fun stuff.

Finally, I ended my weekend movie watching with the original When A Stranger Calls (1979). I’ve got a bit of a history with the remake. My first year here in New York, before I got married, I didn’t really have a lot going on, so on my birthday Rickey, Ben and I (sorry if I forgot anyone else, my memory’s fuzzy at best) I thought it would be awesome to go see a horror movie (Em was still in New Hampshire). WASC had just come out and Rickey and I had just seen the main girl, Camilla Belle, in Chumscrubber and had school boy crushes on her so it seemed like a great idea. It was not and I still get reminded of how bad of a movie it was. Soon after, I looked the original up in Creature Features to find out that the original actually split it’s time between the babysitter getting terrorized story and then a seven years later story when the killer breaks out of an asylum. No wonder it felt like it was way too drawn out.

So, last night I finally watched the original and was even more surprised to find out that the babysitter portion only takes up about 15 minutes of screen time! Oh remake people, you’re so crazy. Anyway, it’s a pretty effective movie, the babysitter stuff in the beginning is definitely creepy and spawned the line “The call is coming from inside the house.” You’ve also got a pretty creepy killer, he killed the kids she was babysitting in their bedrooms with his bare hands while she was downstairs. After the 7 year jump we end up splitting our time between the escaped killer as he wanders around New York trying to hit on (or kill?) some woman and the private detective who’s on his trail. Here’s another movie where we get to see things from the killer’s perspective for a significant part of the movie. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to feel sorry for him or what, which adds to my not loving this movie, but eventually he finds the babysitter, who now has two kids and a husband and starts screwing with her again. There are some creepy moments and the killer definitely walks the line between total creep and somewhat not-hateable. It’s not a great movie, but definitely not as bad as the remake, though this kind of makes me want to watch it again. Somebody stop me…

Labor Day Movie Marathon

2008-09-04
6:54:23 pm

Yeah, I know it’s been a few days since Labor Day, but I’m still recovering. After a weekend filled with playing LEGO Indiana Jones with Em, going to craft fairs (yech), going to a rad Octoberfest and having an impromptu get together at our place (oh, and a lot of beer), I needed to relax. So, while Emily, her friend Vicki and Rickey’s girlfriend Sam went to the Ren Fair, Rickey and I watched roughly 8 hours of horror movies (4.25 in all).

So, without getting into too too much detail, here’s what we watched and my thoughts on each:

MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981)

I gotta say, we picked a good one to start with. Neither of us had seen this one before and I think we were both impressed. The basic story is that there’s this mining town called Valentine Bluffs in Nova Scotia where they used to have this annual Valentine’s Day dance. Twenty years ago, a bunch of miners were really anxious to get to the party so they did something wrong and the mine blew up. Now there’s a tall tale that says Harry Warden threatened to kill anyone who went to the Valentine’s Day dance, so they canceled it…until NOW! So, of course, someone dressed up in a pretty rad mining/dominatrix combo outfit starts killing people, cutting out their hears and putting them in heart shaped boxes. The dance gets canceled, so the genius miners decide to have their party at the mine. Craziness and death ensues.

Wow, that was a lot more in depth than I intended to go, but it’s probably because I really dug this movie. One thing that Rickey and I started wondering towards the end of the movie was whether we were supposed to assume the killer really was escaped mental patient Harry Warden or someone else. Think about it, this flick came out in ’81, the slasher film hadn’t been around for too long, so anything was possible. I neglected to mention that there is a main character named TJ (hells yeah!) who moved away from Valentine Bluffs and came back. His girlfriend is dating a guy so they become the main two characters (and thus suspects). Spoiler, it is one of them, but you’re really not sure which as they switch off in the final scene which actually takes place down in the mine.

The killings themselves aren’t all that spectacular and mostly off camera, but the killer does stuff an old lady into a drier in a laundromat, which the cop finds the next day. Also, I’m not sure if Canadian laundromats work differently than the ones here, but one drier kept drying all night long and never shut off. Come on Canada, how dry do you need your clothes? Another interesting note about Canadians? They drive like maniacs, whether it’s the miners leaving the movie in the beginning of the movie (each driving a car from a different decade, seriously, check it out) or, uh, driving away from the mine later after the killer strikes in the craziest swervy driving I’ve ever seen. I get being scared, but keep your sh!t together miners.

Okay, so that stuff was a little ridiculous, but like I said, I really liked this movie. You got the mystery of who the killer is, pretty great character development without getting too much into unnecessary back story. The killer looks awesome. The climax in the actual mine (the part is in the facility on the surface until some geniuses head down before realizing there’s a killer on the loose) is pretty creepy, mixing fears of claustrophobia and getting a pick axe in the head, especially in the scene where the killer smashes a series of lightbulbs hanging on a string, darkening the shaft with each pop of shattered glass. Really good stuff. If you haven’t seen it and your a slasher/horror fan definitely check it out.

APRIL FOOL’s DAY (1986)

Without much effort (we flipped the double disc over) and watched this flick. I had pretty high hopes because of how surprised and impressed I was by My Bloody Valentine. I wasn’t all that surprised or impressed with April Fool’s Day, mostly because of the ending which I will spoil shortly. The story’s somewhat poorly construed to the audience (neither Rickey nor myself really knew why these kids were meeting on a fairy boat or whether they all knew each other), but the basic premise is that a bunch of kids including Biff from Back to the Future and the main girl from Friday the 13th Part 2 (Amy Steel), are going to stay with their friend Muffy in her big old house on an island. It seems that Muffy likes to pull pranks and has the whole house rigged up. There’s also a few weird things in the rooms like bondage gear, a heroin kit and a tape of a baby crying. Then, as you would expect, the kids start disappearing one by ones, presumably getting killed. The couple that ends up being the last man and woman standing discover that Muffy’s gone crazy and then later that it’s her twin Buffy and then they find out in the end that…it was all a set up. It seems that Muffy was trying out a plan for turning the big old house into a murder mystery getaway.

Now, I’m not a big fan of stories in which the end of the movie completely wipes out the emotions you just felt. Also, I’d be pretty pissed if someone put me through all this crap just to test something out on me. What a jerk! But the movie’s not all bad, and to be honest, I knew something was coming up because I’m a doofus and started reading the IMDB trivia in the beginning which said the body count is 0. So, with that in mind I noticed that none of the killings were on screen and was just waiting for the explanation at the end. I really did like the cast, you might not have known why they all got together in the beginning, but you get the feeling as it goes on that these kids are pretty good friends. Even the goofy pranks display character traits instead of just being annoying.

One thing that really didn’t sit well with me though involved one of those weirder pranks I mentioned above. Throughout the movie the kids aren’t in on the gag until after they “die.” Remember that part where I mentioned a tape of a baby crying? Well it turns out that Muffy used personal information to really mess with her friends’ heads and that girl with the crying baby tape in her room actually had an abortion. It’s mentioned later by one of the other characters and then that girl “dies” and we don’t see her again until the big reveal seen at the end where she’s sitting there pretty unimpressed with the whole thing. What a d!ck move, am I right? But everything’s cool until she sneaks into Muffy’s bedroom and fake slits her throat. I’ll be honest, I kind of wanted Muffy to bite it in the end (which was apparently how an alternate version of the movie was supposed to end) because she really is the villain of the piece and she makes out like a bandit. Where’s the justice?!

Quick side, note, I love this movie poster. I remember seeing it at the video store when I was kid and being scared and later really intrigued.

SCARECROWS (1988)

Scarecrows was the last movie that Rickey brought up with him to watch. Before jumping in we went up to Arby’s and grabbed some grub. We sat back down and watched while we ate and soon realized that this movie kinda sucks and turned it off. It’s about these robbers, one of which pulls a DB Cooper and jumps out of the plane with the loot. He lands in farmland and goes on the run as his cohorts chase him down. Oh yeah, and the scarecrows in the field come to life and kill him. I’m probably gonna finish watching this sometime this week or next, so keep your eyes peeled for another review.

SCANNERS (1981)

So, with the disillusionment that was Scarecrows we went up to Blockbuster and got Scanners, which I had seen, but Rickey hadn’t. I’ve enjoyed all of David Cronenberg’s horror/sci-fi movies that I’ve seen (especially the super-weird Shivers), plus the head explosion scene and final battle between Vale and Revok kicks ass. I had completely forgotten how long and intricate the plot is though. You see, Scanners are basically psychics and telekinetics who are cropping up in the world. Vale’s the good guy, employed by a doctor who turns out to be his dad to infiltrate Revok’s crew, the bad guy who turns out to be his brother. Rickey and I both fell asleep intermittently throughout the movie, but the slow, deliberate pacing actually made it easy to keep up with the story.

I’m definitely not going to really get into the plot here because it’s very intricate, though I basically spoiled the ending above. Heh, woops. But it’s definitely a cerebral journey that shows just how good Cronenberg used to be at bringing out the weirder aspects of humanity in these crazy surreal situations. Highly recommended, along with Shivers, eXistenZ, The Fly, though I can’t pass that same recommendation along for Eastern Promises which just seemed very “been there, done that.”

THE BURNING (1981)

So, after getting rested up we were ready to close things out with a good old fashioned camp slasher movie. Five years ago a camp prank went wrong and the creepy groundskeeper Cropsy gets burned close to death, but not all the way (“The skin grafts didn’t take” an orderly tells him as they roll him out of the hospital.). Now, someone’s killing kids at a different camp. That’s about it as far as the plot goes.

The big draw for me for this flick was the cast, specifically young Jason Alexander and Fisher Stevens who I didn’t really recognize until he spoke in that ribbity voice he has. Jason Alexander looks and sounds pretty much the same as you think he would, just less portly and more ripped. He plays a nice guy jock. There’s also a creepy kid played by Brian Backer (Mark ‘Rat’ Ratner of Fast Times fame) who spies on girls in the shower and just kind of stares creepily at people.

Like I said, the plot isn’t all that intricate. Some campers get killed at the main camp and then a group of them goes on a trip up stream. That’s where the killer really gets to let loose, killing an entire log raft of kids at one point in a pretty cool scene. There’s even a chase between the main killer, the weird kid and the main guy who turns out to be one of the kids who played a prank on Cropsy five years ago in some kind of huge ruined structure in the middle of the woods. I have no idea what the structure was, but it looked pretty rad.

I can recommend this one again for slasher fans as Cropsy runs around with some huge shears cutting off fingers and stabbing throats. It’s also great for camp movie fans like Rickey.

After this we were pretty horror movied out, so we watched an episode of Clean House, a show I find myself strangely drawn to. Good times!