Monday, March 29, 2010

The Movies that Made Me: Ten Films that Shaped My Life Part One

Recently I've posed a challenge to a lot of other bloggers around the ol' blog-o-sphere. I've asked for people to list the top ten movies that have shaped their lives as movie fans, art lovers, artists, people, and whatever else. Tent-pole films of your life, if you will. I figured that it was only fair that I did it myself. So, here are the first five of my top ten movies that shaped me - in chronological order. And, remember, if you'd like to participate in this, by all means go ahead and do so. Feel free to grab the banner from here and use it on your own site.

Films 10-6

10. Jaws - I swear to you that I have this vague, fuzzy memory of being two years old and watching Steven Spielberg's Jaws on our living room television set while I lay on the floor entranced by the disturbing images on the screen. I can only remember one scene from it at that time, but it involved one of Brody's kids, and it affected me on a deep level. It was the first movie that I ever saw that picture children in harm's way. That really freaked me out - and it made me aware of how film could really evoke emotion from the viewer, particularly fear. For anyone that claims Jaws is not a horror movie, I say "pffft". I'm not sure how deeply this film scarred my psyche, but I am still scared of deep bodies of water to some degree. If that doesn't count as "shaping me" as a person then I don't know what does.

9. Star Wars - As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a Jedi. I mean that, when I was little my brother had all of the old Kenner Star Wars toys. He had Taun-Tauns, The Rancor Monster, the Hoth Playset, I mean everything. My first exposure to the Star Wars universe came from these toys, stuffed animals, and bed sheets. The business of Star Wars was so large and booming that the movies might as well have been commercials to sell the toys, but I'll be damned if they weren't fantastic commercials. I still remember watching our VHS copy (which I still have, complete with receipt - $50!) of A New Hope and being absolutely floored by the incredible daring and action that took place on the screen. It was and still is something to be hold, some of the better fantasy mythos that I've encountered. Through the years, I grew even fonder of Star Wars. I was the kid in middle school and high school that wore the Star Wars t-shirt with the Japanese script on it, and carried an original Boba Fett toy in my backpack.

8. Halloween - Another very early horror flick for me, Halloween shaped me at two different times in my life. Firstly, when I was a kid it scared the beejezus out of me. I can remember watching it one Halloween night with my older siblings and some of their friends. We were eating popcorn and watching it in my brother and my room. Even though it was the television edit, I was still terrified of THE SHAPE. Throughout the years, I kept watching scare shows and it ended up being Jason that really stuck with me and became my favorite slasher villain. That is, up until I was about twenty years old or so. At that point, I was really starting to appreciate film. I went back and took at look at Carpenter's early work, including Halloween. For the first time the whole package really struck me as amazing. The atmosphere, the POV shots, the ambiance of the soundtrack. I saw the film with new eyes, trying to dis-remember the sequels and forget about Laurie Strode being Michael's sister and really focusing on it as a stand-alone film. It's a remarkable piece of cinema, and I will always love it.

7. Back to the Future - I doubt that I ever actually understood the awesomeness of Back to the Future when I was a kid, even upon the many rewatches that eventually wore out my VHS tape. At least not the way I do now. What I did know was that I really enjoyed the film, Michael J. Fox, and the concept of travelling through time. I like to think on some level that I did understand that this actually pretty fine film-making, but that may be giving my 6 year old self too much credit. Back to the Future did help a lot in shaping my sense of humor, and my idea of cool. I thought that Marty McFly was the coolest guy in the world - he was suave, charming, had hunnies all over him, and was quietly funny. I do remember that first time travel scene really disturbing me, when Doc Brown is shot down by the terrorists - I was always really happy when Marty found Doc in the past alive and healthy.

6. The Usual Suspects - This is probably the biggest tent pole film for me, in terms of film appreciation. I watched The Usual Suspects when I was in high school. I don't remember the exact age, but probably around 14. I had no real pretense about the film, no expectations, but after I watched this movie I found myself in love with film for the first time, not merely as a spectator but as an active participant in the world of film. Now, I don't mean that I became a film-maker (though, I would go on to make a couple of shorts), what I mean is that I became aware of film-making elements that had never occurred to me before. I became, slowly of course, someone that felt the need to participate in film - to engross myself in it, learn about it, actively seek exciting films, I subscribed to auteur theory without even knowing what it was. I didn't know who Bryan Singer was, but I knew that I was all in on him. I felt that I was witnessing the birth of an exciting young talent, that I could grow with and follow. I still get that same feeling sometimes. It's great to find diamonds in the rough that you can watch the progression of. I love it baseball, music, film, you name it. It was really an exciting time in my film watching experience and one that really shaped me not just as a film lover, but as a person to better understand things like art and craftsmanship - completely enriching my life. Watching the film today, I'm not as enamored with it. Don't get me wrong, I still think it's one of the best pictures of the nineties, but I am more satisfied with what the movie did for me as a person than with the actual picture itself.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Landlord (2009): A Review

The Landlord (2009)


Recently I was enticed by some fairly excellent throw-back style cover art to watch writer/director Emil Hyde's (apparently) first and only movie, The Landlord. Knowing that it was very low budget picture, I assumed it wouldn't live up to the great cover, but picked it up anyway off of the official website just to support independent horror. The DVD will only cost you $12, including shipping. Click the link to check out the trailer

The Landlord is the story Gary, landlord and part owner of a small apartment building. He's a regular guy, who happens to have a very irregular problem - his apartment building actually houses two blood-thirsty demons. It's up to Gary to keep the demons fed and happy, by enticing tenants (preferably fat, lazy ones) to rent out his rooms. One day, a young woman, with troubles of her own, moves into one of the vacancies - only this time Gary takes a shine to her and has to do decide what to do about his situation.

I wish I could get on here and say that my preconceived notions were all wrong, and that The Landlord was actually a fantastic first effort from Emil Hyde. Unfortunately, I think the best thing I can say about the film's merits is that it's not bad. It's not particularly good, but it's not terrible either. Most of the jokes don't quite land, the grue is lacking, the effects are cheap (if sometimes effective), the writing is fairly flat, and the acting is generally amateurish.

There's one really strange side story in the film that involves Gary the landlord's sister. Apparently she's a dirty cop who has made a deal with demon possessed monster/vampire people. The monsters feed on criminals, and the cops collect their spoils is how it works, I guess. Anyway, it's never really explained why these creatures exist, if they are an accepted part of reality, or what. It's just kind of a strange little story tucked into the larger one.

There is a lot to knock about The Landlord, but there are good things as well. The best thing the films has going for it is that there is certainly a lot of heart behind The Landlord. I love Rom Barkhoarder's Rabisu character, and I think he really shines here. The setup is interesting, even if the writing fails to deliver on it. And, even though most of the jokes fall flat, some of them actually do work.

What I am really hoping is that this is a stepping stone for the crew involved here. If Hyde can harness the passion that is seen here, and develop some of the talent that is glimpsed here, then I think we could really be on to something. Cheapie horror doesn't have to be bad, and even though The Landlord isn't going to make you rethink your ranking of best horror flicks, it does at least exemplify that.


Friday, March 26, 2010

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Films from the Crypt: Episode 13 - Maximum Overdrive (1986)

Films from the Crypt: Episode 13 - Maximum Overdrive (1986)
Director: Stephen King
Starring: Emilio Estevez
Tagline: "Who Made Who?"

Warning, here there be spoilers:

The poster tag "...masterpiece of terror directed by the master himself" may be a little bit of an overstatement. In reality, Maximum Overdrive is one of the campiest, most fun horror flicks of the eighties. And, it's pretty easy to see that it was intentional when the first scene has an ATM calling Stephen King an asshole.

The plot is pretty simple. The earth passes through the tail of a comet and, without warning, all of earth's machines take on a life of their own. Oh, and they are murderous. Can't forget that part. We never actually come into any realization as to why the machines are rebelling, I guess it's technically possible that there are invisible aliens that are driving the trucks around. The main story follows a group of people that are surrounded by circling semi-trucks inside a gas station. These include a pervy Bible salesman, newly wed couple, and a badass ex-con played by the Mighty Duckman himself, Emilio Estevez.

Just look at the poster to get a sense of the overall awesomeness of the film. Yeah, I think it's a picture of a well-bearded Steve King breaking through a trailer holding strings attached to semi-trucks like he was the puppet master of so many marionettes. Then you've got Gordon Bombay holding an M16 like he's gone commando while standing next to the female lead.

The characters are underdeveloped, the plot is so full of holes it's ridiculous, and the gore is fairly light, but dammit, this movie just works for me. It's such a ridiculous premise and the leads play it completely straight, ostensibly to give the terror some legitimacy. But the cheese that spews forth from Emilio playing a hard nosed ex-con taking on both shitty boss Pat Hingle (who is excellent by the way) and an onslaught of nefarious, sentient trucks is just amazing beyond words. If somebody pitched that movie to me, I would green light it faster than you can say Another Stakeout.

At this point, let me go back and address the gore, and say that I have only seen the cut version - word is there is another print of the film that has all the kills in tact. I'm holding out hope that the infamous "little kid run over by a steamroller" kill gets even more awesome in the uncut version.

I also want to discuss a little bit about, at least what I see as, the major plotholes. For instance, why are some machines controlled by the alien force, and some are not. Why does the force not just take over the newly weds car instead of trying to use a dump truck to squash them? It seems like it would be easier. We also know that the force is capable of taking over simpler machines, like guns (as is seen when the rolling machine gun acts as a sentry at the gas station), but in the final act all of our protagonists use guns in an attack against the truck menace. It boggles my mind! I'm assuming that someone of King's caliber recognized this and either didn't feel the need to address it, addressed it and it was cut, or just didn't give a damn.

But, the fact of the matter is that none of these flaws make me like the film any less. In fact, I think they are kind of endearing. In reality, I should think that this movie is pretty shitty, and maybe it is, but I happen to think it's awesome.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Monday, March 22, 2010

Spotlight on Evil: Leslie Vernon!

Part Man Bites Dog, part American Psycho, and part Friday the 13th - Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon unleashed its eponymous protagonist upon the world. Leslie is the type of guys that likes to laugh at the little things, he likes to curl up with a nice book on rainy evenings, and he especially likes to hack up young girls into teeny tiny pieces.

While living in the small town of Glen Echo, Leslie took up with and became the apprentice of a retired serial killer named Eugene. Here Leslie lived for a time while he refined his skills as a sickle wielding psycho. This stuff takes a lot of practice and hard work.

Finally, in 2006, Leslie Vernon was ready to take the mantle of ultimate serial killer from the likes of Michael Myers and Jason Vorheese. After devising a very elaborate plot to trap and kill a group of unsuspecting teenagers (complete with a red herring and a final girl), Leslie enlisted the help of college journalist Taylor Gentry and her crew to document his rise to serial killer prominence. Of course, that didn't work out that well. After chasing young Taylor into an orchard, Leslie is actually killed by his own final girl.

But! Yes, there's always a but. As it turns out, Taylor's meddling may have actually done the world a grave disservice, as Leslie's body is seen rising up from the coroner's table. Could it be that Leslie has joined the ranks of Jason and Michael as an unstoppable, undead murderous psycho? God, I hope so.

I would like to formally lodge a complaint, however. There is no cool Behind the Mask swag. At least, none that I could find. Give us a t-shirt, and action figure, something, because Leslie Vernon is the great big bloody shit. That sounds grosser than I meant, but you get the picture.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Clip of the Week

Admiral Radley - Thread live and acoustic on NPR

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Timeline Post - Slow Descent

I had to get on here and just do a mini-review of one of my new favorite albums: The Timeline Post: Slow Descent. Full disclosure: one of the members is a contributor to this site. That said, this album is still really great.

While not quite a concept album, there are certain thematic undercurrents that weave throughout the album's running time. It just so happens that those undercurrents are neatly tied up into the record's title: Slow Descent. The title is apt both musically and lyrically, as each element work together to lull the listener into an ever deepening chasm of despair and misfortune. That may sound hyperbolic, but it's difficult to listen to this record without feeling at least on some small level a sense of being lost in the dark. It's a record of beautiful questions that don't have any answers. And one that I don't think will leave my CD player for quite some time.

Go here now and purchase it for a mere $7, with free shipping.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Monday, March 8, 2010

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Films From the Crypt: Episode 12 - Home Movie (2008)

Films from the Crypt Episode 12: Home Movie (2008)
Director: Christopher Denham
Starring: Adrian Pasdar

Warning, here there be spoilers:

Generally on the Films from the Crypt section we take a look back at some older films that you may have missed, but today I make an exception. Today we are going to look at a film that was released a couple of years ago called Home Movie. Released at the beginning of the Second Found Footage Wave (my own moniker), Home Movie is just that - a found footage film. But unlike something like Cloverfield, Home Movie is a very, very small film that centers around a family in upstate New York. The family, the father (a priest - played by Adrian Pasdar or, as I know him, Caleb from Near Dark) the mother (a psychiatrist), and two kids, have moved to the rural countryside in order to ease the children's declining mental states.
Home Movie Poster Art
I don't know how much of a spoiler it is to say that this is a killer kid film, as you can probably gather that by looking at the back of the box. And, let's be honest, who doesn't love killer kid films? From the Bad Seed to Who Can Kill a Child? to The Good Son, killer kid flicks are just great. Mine is still just shy of three months old, so I don't have to worry too much about him, but I wonder if I'll still feel this way when he gets a little older...old enough to weild, say, a hammer?

Anyway, so the two little freakish kids wind up being just a little bit more malevolent than the parents ever thought. That's all well and good, but my absolute favorite part of the film is the filmmaker's propensity to wrap everything up very nicely. At the end of the film (LAST WARNING - SPOILERS AHEAD) when the kids finally best ol' mom and pop, they put to use every bit of advice that the dad had given them in attempts to "normalize" them. Here is a list of things that I picked up on that were originally taught to the kids by the parents, and then turned around on them to be used for their demise:
little bastards
Trash bags for dead things.
The dragon/paper mask story.
The picking of the locks.
The tying of the knots.
The ability of the pills to induce comas.
The use of a baseball bat.

Overall, it's an interesting film. That's not to say it's fantastic or anything. The acting is pretty flat, at times it's not lean enough to keep you from wanting to hit fast-forward, and sometimes the camera work can get on your nerves. It's definitely not the best found-footage movie (I'd give that title to Spain's [rec]), but it is an entertaining, and deeply interesting piece that works, for the most part, on all the levels that it attempts to. It's definitely recommended viewing and a nice find in the onslaught of crappy horror that's produced today.

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