I Watch A Lot Of Movies: The Beach, Glory Daze, House II & Take Me Home Tonight

The Beach (2000) is one of those movies that I remember coming out, but don’t remember hearing much about. For some reason I thought it had a sci-fi element to it, but instead it’s about a secret island split between a bunch of hippie pot farmers and some bad ass dudes with guns. Leonardo DiCaprio finds out about the island and sneaks his way in where he soon becomes part of the gang. It’s kind of an interesting idea that gets really weird towards the end.

See, Leo left a map with someone and that’s a problem because the guys with guns don’t want anymore people to join the hippies. The boss lady finds out about this and stations Leo on a ledge so he can watch for newcomers. While doing this, Leo loses his damn mind.

The problem isn’t so much in the story or the turn it takes at the end, but in how long the movie goes in one direction showing how life on the island is and THEN switches to this descent into madness kind of thing. The meandering part is kind of fun to look at as you get interested in how life on the island works, but then the tone and mood shift and it’s almost like you’re watching another movie set in the same world as the first. At the end of the day, the performances are solid and Leo does well with an uneven script, but I’m not sure if I’d recommend checking The Beach out if you haven’t already seen it.

We’ve all got types of movies and stories that we’re suckers for and Glory Daze (1995) fits like three of my preferred subgenres. First off it’s got Ben Affleck, an actor I seem to like no matter what he’s in. Second, it’s an “end of college” movie which I’ve been a sucker for since I saw PCU and Animal House. And finally, it’s a 90s movie about the kind of existential crises Gen Xers had when looking at their future in the real world.

Affleck plays a tormented art student who lives with a group of his friends that include Sam Rockwell and French Stewart in a party house. Most of them are on the verge of graduation, but Affleck doesn’t know what he wants to do with the rest of his life and tries convincing his friends to stay on for one more year in the house to party and put off joining the real world.

Like I said, I’m a sucker for these kinds of movies, but I think it’s actually pretty good. Affleck hits a lot of the same notes that he would go on to hit in Chasing Amy (the movies actually shares some similar themes and beats at times) and the movie is funny, but there is a heart in it that I found appealing. It’s about fear of the unknown, discovering the truth of the world and trying to make the best of a bad situation. Sure, it’s formulaic at times, but it reminds me of a lot of the movies I liked in my high school days.

As I said in today’s Ad It Up, I know I saw and enjoyed the first House movie, but I don’t actually remember much about it. I think it had a dude fighting monsters in another dimension after opening a door in his house. House II: The Second Story (1986) one is about a guy moving into his treasure hunting great grandfather’s house that’s decked out in Incan stuff, finding his undead grandfather and trying to keep a crystal skull out of the hands of some demons. Or something.

The poster, which is awesome, might make the movie seem like a creepy horror movie, but it really feels like a campy family friendly romp. The main guy and his friend just kind of run around with a zombie as different rooms in their house turn into crazy locales.

The film also has a pretty fantastic cameo by John Ratzenberger as a repairman who doesn’t bat an eye when an Incan warrior tries to kill him and also fights it off like a boss. Also, there’s a tiny green dog-bug thing that I wish was my pet.

It’s so, so goofy, but if you like that kind of thing, do yourself a favor and check out House II on Netflix Instant.

When I saw trailers for the 80s-set Take Me Home Tonight (2011), I figured it would be your average throwback with lots jokes that are only funny if you’re living in 2011 and the kind of attitude that pokes more fun than pays homage. Thankfully that’s not the case. There are only a few of those anachronistic-style jokes, but for the most part, it’s a coming-of-age, finding-yourself story that just so happens to be set in the late 80s. They don’t even seem to look down on the decade that gave us big hair, strange clothes and rolled up jacket sleeves. Those things are in the movie, but they’re not the focus. It’d be dishonest if they weren’t there.

I was also happy with how some of the usual tropes of this kind of “telling my high school sweetheart I like her story” were handled. You’ve got Topher Grace telling a lie after meeting the girl of his dreams that comes back to bite him in the ass. But, he actually has a really good argument for why he lied. It’s an honest conversation that you rarely see handled so well in this kind of thing.

Like I said, I’m a sucker for these kinds of stories and really liked the performances by Grace (who I’ve liked since That 70s Show), Anna Faris who I didn’t even recognize with brown hair at first, Dan Fogler, Teresa Palmer, Chris Pratt and Michael Biehn. Add in a setting that’s not usually handled this way and I’m in. Give it a look.

Best Of The Best: Dazed & Confused (1993) & Empire Records (1995)

A lot of people have movies that they watched over and over and over as a kid. For me I had Batman Returns and Beetlejuice, but it wasn’t until high school when I really started watching movies repeatedly and two of my most watched movies were Dazed and Confused and Empire Records. Today I was feeling a little nostalgic and decided to watch both of them in chronological order, though I didn’t realize it at the time.

I think my buddy Randy was the first person to bring D&C to my attention and I loved it immediately. It’s about a group of high school students in Texas in the 70s who are dealing with some fairly heavy concepts like what they’re going to do with the rest of their lives, free will vs. the rules placed on us and, most importantly, where to party. It would take forever to lay down the entire plot for you, so just go see the movie if you haven’t yet (what’s wrong with you?). Writer/director Richard Linklater created two of my favorite 90s movies, this one and Suburbia which I watched again a few years ago and even though it’s pretty slow I still like how it captures that feeling of helplessness you feel during and after high school when you want to live a life that matters, but don’t really know how. Dazed deals with very similar concepts, though doesn’t get too bogged down with them.

And that’s what’s great about the movie. There are dozens of characters, some more important to the main story than others, but all of them seem important enough to care about. The script is written so tightly that you’re never bored and always want to know what’s up with the character who you haven’t seen for a few scenes (except Ben Affleck’s O’Bannion, that guy’s just a dick). Plus, everything about the 70s setting feels authentic from the clothes to the cars to the pool hall hang out spot. Oh, and of course, Matthew McConaughey and the rest of the cast make you think you’re really watching a movie from the 70s.

One thing I do want to mention about my past with this movie is that I’ve often been confused by what classes the people were in. For a while, I figured all the older kids in the movies were Seniors who just graduated, but then I realized that didn’t make sense because a big part of the plot revolves around Pink playing football the next year, so they have to be Juniors who are going to be Seniors. On the other hand the younger kids in the movie are going from 8th grade to freshman year. BUT, what about the girls being tortured in the beginning? Are the incoming Freshman or Sophomores? I’m still confused on this because only the boys in the 8th grade class seem worried and not the girls. Ah well. I guess I’ll have to watch it again.

Another thing I want to mention about watching this movie again–I actually watched the VHS version because I have yet to pick it up on DVD and it still looked pretty good–is that, since I’ve been watching this movie for roughly 15 years, I’ve related to vastly different characters when watching it. When I was younger, I related to Mitch, the 8th grader-cum-freshman who gets thrown into an older world of high school that he might not have been ready for but adapts really well. I’m still impressed with how well he adapts and how incredibly nervous I would have been in the same situation in high school. In later viewings it’s been Pink, who’s deciding what to do about his future freedom, Wooderson who seems to be an eternal child (with a sick ass ride, mind you) and even Don who delivers one of my favorite lines in the movie: “I want to look back and say that I did I the best I could while I was stuck in this place. Had as much fun as I could while I was stuck in this place. Played as hard as I could while I was stuck in this place… Dogged as many girls as I could while I was stuck in this place.” Not a bad way to live life.

To say I was obsessed with Empire Records in high school might be a bit of an understatement. One time, after watching Dazed and Confused, Randy and I watched Empire Records. Twice. I even remember the first time I saw it. Mind you, I have no memory of either of these movies being in theaters and only discovered both once they were on tape. Anyway, I went to an all guy Catholic high school. At some point either Freshman or Sophomore year, I went to a date dance with a girl who I was in the same group of friends with. We went back to someone’s house and the girls really wanted to watch this movie I’d never heard of. They turned it on and I was digging the hell out of it because, well, I’ve always wanted to work in a record store and would still consider taking a part time job at one today. Unfortunately, my ride came and I had to leave before it was over. The second time I tried to watch it, it was really late and I fell asleep. Luckily, the third time was the charm and I saw the whole thing, though it wasn’t until a few views later when I discovered the after-credits conversation between Marc and Eddie, which I now wait for every time.

I bought the movie soon after. And the soundtrack. And started a soon-abandoned-though-never forgotten compilation of the other prominent songs that soundtrack missed. And dressed up like Marc for Halloween one year. And have followed all the actors in most of their later rolls. And started reading about the movie online which informed me of a rollerblading female character who got cut from the movie but can still be briefly seen and the Tobey Maguire had a part that got cut. This was in the heyday of fan sites and I was reading all of them that I could find (like here, here, here and here, how great is it by the way that Angelfire and Tripod sites still exist while dumb Geocities went out the window?).

I can still recite the movie pretty well even today, though the version I have on DVD is the Fan Remix edition which has new scenes added in. That still throws me off a bit and the DVD is pretty great, though I wish there was at least a commentary on there from director Allan Moyle and/or writer Carol Heikkinen (who I just discovered also wrote the Center Stage movies). Neither of them have gone on to do too much else, at least not much that I’m familiar with.

I’ve mentioned before when talking about high school movies (either set then or watched then) can be very subjective. I’ve got friends who swear by Lost Boys because they loved it as a kid, but I watched it for the first time as an adult and liked it, but that’s it. I’d like to think that both of these movies are good, even though my love for them stems from being a kid. Dazed is a true classic for sure, I’ve got no doubt about that. Empire might have been the first “workplace” movie I saw which kicked off my love of these movies where all the action takes place based around a workplace and the people who work there instead a specific few characters like Car Wash or DC Cab. I do however wonder if Empire might not be as interesting to kids now as a movie about old time radio might have been to kids my age when we were in high school, but I hope that the themes and emotions explored therein can still be appreciated by anyone.

Damn, I really want to work in a record store…

Halloween Scene: Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994)

5:47:25 pm

Wow, I haven’t been this torn between liking and hating a movie in a while. I remember seeing the box for this movie at my nearby Family Video (my main source for horror movies), but for some reason it was ALWAYS in the new release section and I was too cheap to rent those movies, I was more a fan of the 2 for $1 VHS rentals. So today was the first time I’ve watched the flick which stars Renee Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey.

There is a lot wrong with this movie. First off, the kids all end up in one car driving for a few minutes away from prom and yet, later in the movie when Zellweger is running away NOTHING IS AROUND. It doesn’t make much sense. Another huge negative for me is this version of Leatherface. Instead of behing this huge, imposing, terifying mostly silent force of nature he’s a yowling little wuss and as far as I can tell he’s not actually wearing a mask of a human face but a wooden one in the beginning.

But it’s not all bad. McConaughey is pretty scary and completely gives himself over to the character of a complete psychopath, though I’m not sure why he has a robot leg brace. Many of his scenes are even pretty scary as the camera doesn’t cut away from his lunatic behavior. I also like the performances by the actors who play Barry and Heather. Barry’s a total asshole who I loved hating. His lines are hilarious as many of them star with “Everybody knows you’re…” “It’s not my fault you…” or “My father is a…” He actually sounds like a character that Danny McBride would play today. And Heather is the dumb blonde girl who actually knows the score saying “There’s people in the woods who are going to chase us down and kill us and lock us in cabinets.” It’s actually funny later when she tells Barry that she doesn’t really believe any of the things she says, she just does it because she’s bored and then all those things happen. Funny stuff.

Another character I really like is Darla who seems normal at first but (surprise surprise) turns out to be related to the Sawyer family. She’s McConaughey’s girlfriend or wife or something and she really does a great job of it. It’s hard to explain her role, she’s kind of frank and logical, seems like Renee but also loves the insane McConaughey, but hates his brothers (Leatherface and the quote-spewing and attributing W.E.. She’s the funniest part of the movie.

And I think that’s why I couldn’t get a good grip on the movie, I had trouble figuring out if it was taking itself seriously or not because there are some seriously crazy parts. The best scene that Leatherface is in is his first where he grabs Heather and it’s very physical and real-looking. But he’s screaming the whole freaking time like a woman and wearing a jerry curl wig/pelt of some kind that just looks stupid.

As you’d expect the whole end of the movie involves a dinner scene with Renee trying to escape from the house over and over again. There’s a bunch of scary-ish scenes, but it could border on torture-porn for some folks. At one point Darla confides in Renee that Matthew works for the Illuminati (the people who make the world go round). I kind of expected it to just go nowhere, but later on a dude shows up and says he’s disapointed in Matthew for not spreading enough horror (or something). I have no idea what this means. The dude disapears, some more craziness happens and then Renee gets away and into an RV as Leatherface runs behind her dressed in a woman’s suit with what looks like a large woman’s chest skin under his jacket. It looks RIDICULOUS. Anyway, you think she’s okay until they show up in a truck with Leatherface swinging his chainsaw at the RV until it goes off the road and flips over. Then, Matthew’s chasing Renee and is just about to get her when a plane you saw a few minutes before and just assumed was a crop duster shoots him in the head. Then she turns around and there’s a car right behind her with the weird dude from before in it. Leatherface seems freaked out and does a stupid chainsaw dance when the car pulls away. Ridonculous.

I’ve read that this is some peoples’ favorite TCM follow up. I can’t say if I even have one. I’ve got to watch 2 again and Leatherface (aka TCM 3) for the first time. I’ve also got the TCM remake’s sequel ready to watch from Blockbuster so look out for that.

Finally, I have to put a call out to all of you folks who are so good at re-cutting movies into trailers like Must Love Jaws or 10 Commandments I Hate About You NEED to recut TCM: TNG into a romantic comedy trailer. PLEASE! I’ll give you a dollar and link the crap out of it.