Riding With The King: Film Edition!

maximum-overdriveAs I mentioned in my Stranger Things-inspired post, I’ve been watching a lot of horror films lately. And you can’t have a mention of that Netflix series without thinking of Mr. Stephen King, now can you? Well, I read and listened to a crazy number of his novels earlier this year (and am still sloooooowly working my way through The Stand) but I’ve also watched a few of the films he’s worked on.

While flipping through movie options on TWC On Demand I saw Maximum Overdrive as an option and immediately turned the film on. Usually, I spend a ridiculous amount of time thinking about my choices, but this was nearly instantaneous. Continue reading Riding With The King: Film Edition!

80s Odyssey: 48 Hours (1982)

48-hrs-movie-poster-1982-1020192886 Eddie Murphy was one of the Saturday Night Live stars whose films my dad introduced to me when I was a kid. I can’t tell you how many times we watched Trading Places or the Beverly Hills Cop movies when they’d come on TV. But, 48 Hours is something of a blind spot for me. I know I’ve seen the movie (or at least parts of it) a few times, but it hasn’t taken up much real estate in my head.

I knew the basics, of course, cop (Nick Nolte) springs con (Eddie Murphy) from jail to help him with an investigation, but somehow it escaped my knowledge that the movie was directed by The Warriors helmer Walter Hill and even stars a few of that movie’s leads, James Remar as killer Albert Ganz and David Patrick Kelly as a street hood coincidentally named Luther.

To get into a bit more detail, Murphy’s character used to run with Remar’s gang. Another criminal helped spring Ganz from prison and the two went on a crime spree that happened to garner attention from the cops. In the process of escaping, two of the cops get killed and Nolte wants revenge. He teams up with Murphy to try and figure out what’s going on and where they can find Remar.

48 Hours is notable because it gave Murphy his first big screen role and success. From there he’d go on to become one of the biggest comedy stars of the 80s. In the film he nails the role of angry convict with a cool head and a smart mouth. I’m a big fan of the scene where he goes in to the country bar acting like a cop and gets to get a lot of his anger out. It’s cathartic.

This movie is also an interesting milestone in movies of this kind. Apparently Hill thought that Murphy’s character here was taken, slightly changed and then used again in the Beverly Hills Cop series. I think there’s an argument that could be made to that point, but how much of that was in the script and how much was just Murphy’s performance is probably impossible to tell at this point. Some of my favorite movies from this era have a similar vibe to this one, mixing some legitimate action or drama elements with some truly great comedic acting (I’m thinking of you Fletch and Fletch Lives). There’s also an interesting transition in scores that you can hear in this film. Anyone who knows BHC, remembers the electronic theme song written by Harold Faltermeyer. 48 Hours has a pretty solid soundtrack of more traditional music, but there is a little bit of the electronic, new wave influence in there that would soon take over.

Now that I think about it, the movie also represents a passing of the torch between two versions of this kind of movie. Nolte’s character is a lot more in line with the vigilante cop films of the 70s like Dirty Harry and Death Wish, while, as I already mentioned, Murphy is the smart-talking, wise cracking cop who can take care of himself. This also allowed for the bigger action guys like Stallone and Schwarzenegger to come in and fill some of those gaps with their far more over-the-top films.

I’m still not sure why 48 Hours wasn’t in heavy rotation either in my house or later on during my heavy rental period during high school, but I’m glad I came around to it so many years later. Experiencing a movie that combines one of my favorite stars from this era with a director I really adore is a nice treat. My only complaint about the movie is that Annette O’Toole is awesome and just doesn’t get enough to do in the film.

Just Finished Dexter Season 4 (2009)

dexter season 4 Never let it be said that I abandon a show I enjoy. I reserve that kind of treatment for programs that turn a corner I just can’t abide (Weeds and Desperate Housewives, I’m looking at you). Still, it’s been quite a while since I’ve watched a season of Dexter. Way back in 2009 I reviewed the first and second seasons of this Showtime series about a serial killer who only kills killers. At some point I also watched the third, but apparently didn’t write about it. I’d been thinking about catching up, especially since the series is over now, and then it appeared on Netflix Instant!

I was pretty jazzed and started burning through the season, but slowed way down as I got closer and closer to the finale because, at that point, it was the last one on Instant and because the end of an episode of Entertainment Tonight or something spoiled the surprise death at the end of the season back in 2009. Not wanting to stop on such a crazy, sad cliffhanger, I held back. Then Netflix shifted a bunch of things around in the beginning of the year and I found myself able to watch all eight seasons. It seemed like the perfect time to get back on that horse!

Because it’s been a while since I actually started watching this season, I almost forgot about how funny that first episode is. Dexter’s a dad now and lives with his wife Rita and her two kids which totally puts a damper that whole sneaking around and murdering bad guys thing he’s into. Obviously, that’s a crazy thing to relate to, but I think all parents have a thing they wish they could devote more of themselves to while struggling to deal with the normal problems of their day.

In addition to being funny, though, this season was super intense. This time around Dexter found himself tracking Trinity, a killer with a very specific cycle of murders he’s been committing all over the country for decades. As it turns out, season two guest star Agent Lundy (Keith Carradine) has been hunting this killer for a while, which brings him back into everyone’s lives, especially Deb who falls for him all over again.

But, things don’t work out so well for them and soon enough we find out that John Lithgow is Trinity. How great was the casting on this part? For a whole generation of people, Lithgow is just the silly dad from Third Rock From The Sun. So, seeing him as this wildly complicated, emotionally devastated human being who seemingly keeps it together enough to lead a relatively normal life — wife, two kids, job, charity participation — but really has this insane monster living inside of him. Oh man, and everything that happened with the reporter Christine? Man, that was bonkers.

Speaking of Lithgow’s greatness, I was surprised by a lot of the guest appearances big and small in this season. I recently wrote about how huge of an Arrow fan I am, so seeing David Ramsey was a nice surprise. It’s been so long since I watched season three, I completely forgot about his character altogether. I also must have looked up Christine actress Courtney Ford a half dozen times because I knew she looked familiar, but could not remember why. She appeared on one episode of How I Met Your Mother and also spent some time on Parntehood. She’s strangely transfixing. And finally, Jake Short from Disney’s A.N.T. Farm played a potential Trinity victim towards the end of the season. That’s one of the Disney shows I kind of hate, but I thought he did a great job.

One of the biggest thematic questions this season, one that Dexter struggled with by way of his talks with his dad Harry, was how similar he is to Trinity. Both have families, but as Dexter learned, Trinity doesn’t actually treat them very well. What Dexter learns by comparison to someone so like himself is that he actually does love his family. He wants to be a good dad and does care about his kids, though it might be a bit twisted around in his also-damaged brain.

All of this comes to a head in the last few episodes when Dexter finally gets Trinity to crack and basically unleashes the wild dog inside. Dexter doesn’t exactly handle himself with the kind of rigid formality that Harry taught him and, guess what, the poo really hits the fan. Not only does Trinity figure out who Dexter really is, but his attempt to frame a guy for the Trinity murders falls apart, putting the cops back on the case. With so many groups and people hunting each other, you just know someone has to get hurt and that’s exactly what happened. I won’t spoil the victim here, because I don’t want to continue the cycle, but it was a biggie.

Actually, I will get into SPOILERS, but only for this paragraph and because it’s kind of a funny story. So the big bit of craziness at the end of the season is that Trinity actually murdered Dexter’s wife Rita before Dexter dispatched him. I actually started thinking that the big spoiler I knew — that Rita was going to die — might happen at the end of the fifth season and that I had put all this extra dread on this season myself. I mean, there was five minutes left and she went on vacation, right? Wrong! Bam, they got me even though I knew what was gonna happen. Well played show, well played.

Dexter offered yet another emotional roller coaster of a season that I strapped in for and really enjoyed. Plus, the writers really set things up for the show to hit a lot of different points in the coming seasons. I’m guessing everything moving forward will be about family, Dexter experiencing his from a different angle and Deb trying to figure out if something’s wrong with her brother. For me, the beauty moving forward is that I don’t know ANYTHING about what happens in the next four seasons, so it’s all spoiler-free from here! Unless you spoil something in the comments, which would not be cool. Don’t be jerks, gang!

Halloween Scene: Dexter Season 1 (2006)

I have a long history of being too cheap for premium cable. As a kid, the only pay channel we had was the Disney Channel. I remember relishing the days when HBO, Showtime or Cinemax would have those free weekends (I remember staying up REAL late one night to see Striptease and being pretty disappointed). In college we got HBO on our cable plan at some point and that was fun, but aside from that, the movie channels have not been a part of my life. So, I watch all the premium channel stuff (like Weeds, Sopranos and Big Love) after the fact. Luckily, Showtime seems to be slowly making their original shows available on NetBox. And, being the horror junkie I’ve turned into this October, I just couldn’t resist a 12-episode show about a serial killer killer.

Here’s the basic premise of the show. Dexter is a blood splatter expert for the cops. I think he’s part of the CSI team essentially, working in the same office as the cops. Is that how it actually works? I have no idea. Dex’s sister is a cop who moves from vice to homicide, while a killer keeps murdering prostitutes, draining their blood and leaving their bodies chopped up for the cops to find. He’s also playing games with Dexter. Why? Because Dexter is also a killer himself. See, his foster pops saw the darkness inside of Dexter and trained him to only kill animals or people who needed killing, bad people. And Dexter, to this day, still follows the rules that Harry set in place. Harry, interestingly enough, is played by James Remar who was also in The Warriors and Band of the Hand.

Overall, I dug the first season of Dexter. There’s a few characters that really got on my nerves and seemed fairly one-note. You’ve got Doakes, the detective who hates Dexter. The dude’s kind of a meathead and if you take away an affair he has with a cop’s wife, all he does is give Dexter shit. There’s also Laguerta, a lady cop who’s in charge of the precinct (or whatever it is), but keeps giving Dexter’s sister Debra shit for no actual reason. With little else to them besides this “we’re badass” vibe they have, these characters get to be pretty annoying and boring.

Aside from them, though, I found the rest of the characters really engaging. Dexter definitely has elements of Patrick Bateman, but isn’t a complete nut. In the flashbacks we see Harry explaining the rules to Dexter and Dexter reflecting on the rules in the present. He also talks about the urges he used to have. What I found a little curious is that we don’t really get a sense of his urge to kill in the present day. Yes he kills a lot of people, but you don’t get the sense that it’s something he’s drawn to, just something he likes to do. Maybe that’s something that gets addressed in later seasons. Speaking of the flashbacks though, Remar does kind of oversell the role, spreading on a bit too heavy while the writers also have him showing up every single time young Dexter is about to lose control. It just comes off as a little too coincidental.

I mentioned Dexter’s fellow serial killer who’s playing with him earlier. That’s the overarching story for the season and I found it to be a fascinating one even though I called the culprit before the reveal (though not WAY before). See, not only is this other killer playing a game with Dexter, but it’s a game that opens up doors to Dexter’s youth and we find out even more about him. It’s a fascinating look at what it would take to create someone who is constantly presenting a mask to the world and doesn’t feel anything when he’s not killing.

I also really liked the character of his foster sister Deb. She just seems so real and charming and it’s rough watching what happens to her towards the end of the season. I’m also a big fan of the goofy forensic examiner Masuka who’s awesomely lude and inappropriate. And Angel, another cop, balances things out by being just a rad dude.

The season finale was an intense one that not only brought an exciting end to the ongoing story, but also put Dexter in a reasonable amount of danger. It also changes the status quo a bit as Doakes is keeping an eye on Dexter after he shows up at several crime scenes unannounced. That should definitely put a damper on his extra curricular activities.

One other thing I want to note is how amazing the set designers make the blood look. You’ve got it spewing from people, on walls, carpets and even turned into art in Dexter’s office. There’s even a cool way that Dexter sets up an aparatus that looks like red straws to demonstrate how people were attacked and how their blood sprayed out. It’s really interesting and gross stuff.

I can see how the show might get a little Weeds-ish where the writers just start wrapping sidestories up into nice little packages that are way too neat and air-tight, but I hope not. We shall see, I’m starting the second season tonight!