Showing posts with label film. Show all posts
Showing posts with label film. Show all posts

12.06.2012

Hinter Lands


You guys! 

Addendum! 

You see, I secretly left out the time bomb in that post about winter storms. I wrote about how there was an ice storm and a blizzard and I went to see Monsters and blah blah blah. All about where my life was two years ago, a little love letter to living in Uptown. The fact is, before the movie started there was a trailer that was so straight up bonkers that it stayed with me all this time, a time capsule of crazy that finally cracked open this past weekend. A Xmas extravaganza of gonzo proportions. 

Rare Exports. 
You know what? I'll save the gushing preamble and just link right to the trailer here

Look at it. Is it any wonder, with such a dark, mythological take on Santa that it would stick in my head so firmly over the last two years? Especially when you consider one of my favorite traditions is reading Last Christmas just for the spectacle? Amazing. It is so over the top and audacious there's no way it could be decent, right? Wrong. It is awesome. 
There is so much going on in this movie that could have quickly driven it off the rails. All of these potential problems end up working in its favor, though. Set in remote parts of Finland? Could be dreary and boring, instead becomes beautifully isolated and an authentic and logical setting. Mostly subtitled? Never a problem for me and I liked knowing the cast was using their native language. Grim and gory take on the essence of innocence and hope? It becomes an ominous, delightfully macabre story about our forgotten myths and shared history. Oh, and Santa being a malevolent force of doom? All. Kinds. of Awesome. 
This movie is so unique and fresh and absolutely appropriate for this holiday season. If you've had your fill of the usual holiday fare, look no further. If you want to scare yourself into your childhood sense of wonder at a world you don't understand, look no further. For real. It's not even an out and out horror movie. It's one of those bizarre hybrid movies that's somehow bigger than its parts. The soundtrack is also worth noting, because it has the excellent little motif that mixes music box levity with deep, foreboding bass. 
Do yourself a favor this Xmas. Check out Rare Exports. It stuck with me as a "oh yeah, I need to see that" kind of memory for two whole years and it totally paid off. Happy hunting.

11.30.2012

Proto Man

So I finally saw Prometheus last night.

It was heavily buzzed last spring. I had as high of hopes as anyone else - probably even higher, to be honest. While my initial reaction to the announcement had been low expectations at best, that changed the more I saw. The trailer looked crazy and there was honest to goodness potential in Ridley Scott going back to the well for more of the once-great franchise. They even had Lost-alum (the admittedly divisive) Damon Lindelof on board to re-write the script and build the world a bit more. There was a great cast in line. Everything was lining up to be pretty damn stellar. 

Then the movie came out and the world of nerds on the internet collectively soiled themselves in anger. 

Once the negative feedback started online, I decided not to see it in the theater as I had originally planned. Instead, I waited to consume it in the same fashion I had any other entry in the fading Alien franchise: at home with some junk food and no expectations. So how was it?

Not bad.

While Prometheus was certainly not on the level with the original Alien or other staples of the genre like Blade Runner, it wasn't the cinematic abortion people were claiming it to be. In fact, despite a flawed story with arbitrary motivation and some contrived coincidences, I found it to be a grand and profound science fiction movie the likes of which rarely get made these days. Far from perfect but still enjoyable, there were plenty of moments where the soul of previous success would bleed through. Ridley Scott has had hits and misses, but when he gets on a good streak in a movie it can really build some momentum. Sure, it can be dashed on the rocks of characters who quickly become shouting morons, but there were more than enough entertaining moments to warrant its production.

Additionally, in a bid to stop typing altogether I dictated my thoughts into my phone as I sat in the dark, eating Whoppers and nursing a beer. Below is a full list of my notes, along with the clearer insight of having slept on what I saw in parentheses:


- Even the opening logo is that weird blue tint to it. (Must we do the orange/blue color shift every time?)

- The opening panoramas actually have that the Scott feel. (Pretty grand vistas and sweeping, heavy shots.)

- So is the intro of the movie the crux of the whole plot in a bad way? (Like, was that it? From what I had avoiding spoiling for myself in advance, seeing the first scene made me think 'Yeah, that's probably it, I should turn it off and save myself a couple hours. I was sort of wrong?)

- Even for science-fiction this dream reading business seems bogus. (Immediately forgetting Inception and, you know, space monsters and robots.)

- It's got a good look but the problem is that even the retro looking things clearly are more advanced than what was in Alien. (It's that balancing act of a PREQUEL being made 30 years later. Tech we hadn't thought of could be explained away as better funding by the Weyland Corp. Also, in Alien they were just a mining ship.)

- God awful accent. (Rafe Spall. Seriously.)

- Old make up still looks fake. (No matter how artfully applied and blended with CGI, my first thought was 'OMIGAD YOUNG PERSON IN MAKEUP. Why have Guy Pearce do that? Why not, say, hire an elderly actor?)

- I want the white sweatshirt. (Alright Rafe - I'll forgive the accent if I can have your weird hoodie.)

- There better funded that's what they have better tech. (My hand-waiving the jarring juxtaposition of this movie and Alien. See above.)

- That is one stupid scientist. (Dude. Even I know - DO. NOT. TOUCH. This was apparently establishing a running theme?)

- The geologist is clearly from a lesser film. (Sorry man, but your over the top acting was not due to script problems.)

- The engineer head coming back to my life momentarily is genuinely freaky. (No joke. A disturbing moment. Also? Totally animatronic, I found out.)

- Ask God why do we need robots? (A real BSOD moment for me. Never stopped to think 'Wait, why ARE we making robots in the first place? Simply to serve man? That's a cop out. Still chewing on this.)

- Apple TV remote visible on Shaw's couch. (Nice future tech, you thing I have on my coffee table.)

- That just went from bad to worse. (Blugh, that snake-thing snapping an arm and melting the helmet? That escalated quickly.)

- In the map room the difference between practical effects and CGI is still stark although it's good to see more Geiger. (It's hard to blend them, even all these years after Phantom Menace. Geiger's art is still so distinct and creepy, when used sparingly.)

- That is a slow non-guaranteed way to die and Charlize Theron didn't want to do it. (Seriously, setting him on fire? Probably would suffer for hours from complicated burns. You have guns. Shoot him.)

- I'm obviously not the first person to think Prometheus take place in the same world as Inception. (Cue the linking of that movie's universe, which makes the combined fictional universes Inception, Alien, Blade Runner and Predator.)

- Body horror in the medical pod a glimpse of things to come. (That abortion scene was one of the most disturbing things I've seen on film in a while. The opened cavity? Awful. A horrible look at the wonderful, sterile, male-driven world of medicine yet to come.)

- Arbitrary monster...(...is arbitrary. Shoe horned in for a scare/action scene? Waste of screen time.)

- Idris Elba is the best part of this and maybe David. (Okay, clearly David is the best thing about this movie, but Idris was pretty damn solid.)

- I would've believed it if they killed everybody. (A psych-out that I was willing to accept. If any movie had the stones to go bleak and kill 'em all, this would have been it. But alas, no.)

- Final alien was gratuitous, redundant and poorly designed. (Sorry, just didn't dig it. Even after all the build up. Show, don't tell. It was clearly the same Engineers and world of Alien, do we need to be hit over the head with it?)

So there you have it. Despite the high snark level of some of those comments, I really did enjoy Prometheus and will defend it to fellow nerds. It aspired to be more than it could, but despite a strong pedigree could not overcome some complex script problems.  If you're curious, I highly recommend it.

Still worth waiting to see after all the publicity.

10.29.2012

Inn & Out

Oh, right.

Crum.

It's been October all month, hasn't it? It has. Where have I been? I don't know. Stuff gets busy, I guess. I was looking back at last October's posts and I was not only reliable but down right prolific. It was super fun, if I recall, but also super busy. I don't know how I got all that done. Must not have owned a house at the time. Yeah, that's gotta be it. I'm out raking and running when I have daylight now, instead of bumming around the city. This time last year I was looking eagerly, if optimistically to the idea of eventually having trick or treaters. That is a thing that looks to definitely be happening this year. I am, in a word, jazzed. Like, drum solo jazzed. 

But I digress.

I was looking back on what I was posting and what I wanted to get to and realized what I wanted to put out there this year. I don't have some crazy gimmick or overlooked gem from the past. Nah, I'm switching it up this time around. What I'm saying is there is a great flick that came out this last year that deserves all the love it can get. Something modern? How novel! So take a look at The Innkeepers...
Released in 2011, The Innkeepers is a low budget slow-burn of a creeper from up and coming horror director Ti West. Starring Sara Paxton and Pat Healy as titular innkeepers Claire and Luke, the flick shows a surprising amount of heart for a modern day haunting tale. Claire and Luke are the last remaining employees in a sleepy little inn that's set to close in a few days. While the last guest check in, they decide to step up their paranormal investigations of what they are sure must be a haunted locale. Needless to say, something goes bump in the night. 
Having only heard good things about this movie on Doug Loves Movies (from host Doug Benson and multiple guests), I have to say I really enjoyed it. It has more heart and character than so many movies that are touted as horror or suspense tales these days. It doesn't wallop you with gore or unrelenting terror. It's a slow, suspenseful build that will often have you wondering if anything is going to happen. Oddly enough, that comes to be a positive rather than a boring flaw. When things come to a boil they really jolt you. The quiet moments allow for personality to foster. You get a better sense of identity from the characters. In a way the visual aesthetic combined with the jaunty soundtrack brought to mind fond recollections of Ghostbusters. I'm sure it was intentional but it was a great way to call back on something that's rarely touched upon by so many imitators.
Halloween is almost here. Don't get stupid with gore, get scared with a modest charmer. It's really a strong movie that comes in a small package. Think outside the box and check out this under-the-radar thriller. It's still on Netflix, to boot. Do it. Do it do it do it.

4.23.2012

Cabin Fever

Okay.

So.

I saw a little movie called Cabin in the Woods this weekend. 

I adored it.

This is, of course, the kind of thing I usually follow with a synopsis and digestion. Due to the nature of the film, however, I'm going to refrain from engaging in my typical activity. Instead, I strongly encourage you to see the movie as I did - in as much of a void of context as possible. While I can't explain the movie, perhaps my reasoning for the experience warrants dissection.
The less I say about the movie, the better. Here are the few facts I can divulge without spoiling the viewing experience: written, directed and produced by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, it has a fantastic pedigree. The dialogue and plot are natural despite the horrible things that happen. Characters are surprisingly believable given the circumstances that unfold. It's about some good looking young people that go to a Cabin in the Woods. Bad things happen and we are given a bit of a mystery to piece together. Saying more than that would begin to chip away at the unexpected delights in the movie.

You know what? 

I need to stop here.
I can feel a full, spoilerific rant waiting to gush out. It's hard to withhold, frankly. I'm even reticent to post any links or images to go along with all this. All I can really say at this point is that if you have any love whatsoever for horror movies, or the ritual of going to the movies or even just smart, incredibly well written and engagingly directed movies - do not hesitate. See it now, before anything gets spoiled. It worked so well in a vacuum. It was so amazing to see a movie that trusted the audience to keep it, to assume we were smart rather than play down to the base level.

Go.

Go now.

Don't read reviews, don't watch trailers. Just know that it has been incredibly well received and warrants seeing on the big screen.

Trust me - you won't be sorry.

2.22.2012

Video Playback

Recently while running errands with my better half, we passed the remains of what used to be a Blockbuster Video store. Noting that there had been signs hung stating they were going out of business and had to sell off their inventory, we began to reminisce over a tradition that is no more. 

"Think of explaining all that to our kids someday," she said. "What a strange thing to have to do, like using a rotary phone." 

She was totally right. You don't think about it so much now, but it was a funny thing to have to do. Friday night, you and your friends would all pile into one car, drive to a store and wander around, arguing over what movie you wanted to see. If it was taken, you couldn't see that movie and had to pick something else. How strange does that seem now? We have wide spread systems called Watch Instantly and On Demand. There used to just be a single copy of a movie at the rental places and if it was gone - tough luck! On top of that, you usually only had one night to watch it. No planning ahead. You had to go get it, watch it and drop it off the next day. That seems like a weird pressure to have for enjoying a movie. However, being out and about did afford an opportunity (or, more likely, an excuse) to stop and grab snacks for the movie. This little benefit seems to be offset by the fact that if the weather was bad (as it could be in winter) then you had to weigh the risk/reward for venturing out. That is how people got sick of watching the movies they owned. 

As weird as this little ritual used to be, I am a bit sad to see it go away. I can recall a lot of good times from goofing around in the video store, as well as the unexpected surprise of my mom saying "Oh, I rented a movie for you while I was out." How nice was that? I wasn't always out doing things with friends, particularly before I had my license, so these unexpected movies were a great treat. My mom would randomly stop by the video rental place and grab something for me or my younger brother. That is something I'll never be able to do for my kids. Instead I'll have to sit them down and say "You're going to watch The Goonies and you're going to like it!" Who am I kidding? That will never happen. They won't be able to have an attention span long enough. Neither will I, really. 

Random surprise movies were fun. That was the only reason I saw (oof) The Phantom Menace when I was younger. Also, here's a confession - one time, the surprise movie was The Princess Diaries. Yes. You read that right. I'm not ashamed of it. I had some qualms about watching a girly Disney movie, but in my defense, I was severely grounded and it starred a little-known actress named Anne Hathaway. It wasn't bad, actually. Maybe my teenage sensibilities and a burgeoning crush were more forgiving than my current palate. Then again, I can cop to a spotty track record for hits and misses in pop culture. 

There was also the small joy of asking "Hey mom, if you're out and about today, could you pick up this movie for me?" Sitting in the basement and going through a mental queue of movies was my own precursor to Netflix. There was one snowy night I made a point of watching Reservoir Dogs and Chasing Amy, which felt at the time like the most independent and out there movies in the world. What an adorably sheltered life I led. 

I guess that's the way it goes, though. Time and technology march on. When I was a teenager I couldn't have possibly hoped for anything like I have now. Last night, when I couldn't sleep, I sat in bed watching an episode of The X Files on my iPad. Not only was I freed from the time and location restrictions of a TV, I had an overwhelming amount of choices of what to watch. We are absolutely spoiled when it comes to media and consumption. I'll keep that in mind the next time I feel nostalgic about the dearth of old habits or the prices of a movie ticket. 

2.15.2012

Pure Menace

I went to see The Phantom Menace this weekend. Intentionally and with surprisingly high hopes, I should add. 

My reasons for doing so were varied, but I essentially wanted to see if it truly is as bad as the collective internet would have us believe. Though, really, it was a chance to hang out with a friend of mine and go to the movies, which happens so rarely these days. I had a great time with my friend, but the movie...what a fascinating misstep in the annals of film. 

Here's the short version for anyone not in the know: George Lucas was responsible (mostly) for some really great movies. He took a huge hiatus from a beloved franchise and when he returned to it almost 20 years later, he made a movie that has become synonymous with disappointment and fan-backlash. Since then, he made two more that only made incremental improvements, thus tarnishing the very series that brought him to prominence in the first place. Lucas cut a deep dividing line between his older work and his recent work, one body being heartfelt and the other being coldly focused at selling toys and crowding the screen. But I'm getting ahead of myself. 
I loved the Star Wars movies as a kid. As a teenager, my focus shifted (girls, music, what have you) and I never even saw The Phantom Menace in its theatrical release. I eventually rekindled my love for the series a few years ago, the nostalgia fueling a passion for which little else holds such high regard in my eyes. So when the Blu Ray editions of the six film series were announced, I was on board from the get go. Yes, the whole thing, not just the good half. I wanted the whole set, not just for completion's sake, but to evaluate the series with fresh eyes and new presentation. I hadn't seen TPM in ten years, and the only time I saw it was on a VHS on a small screen TV on a sunny afternoon. Hardly ideal viewing conditions. When I watched the movies on Blu Ray a few months ago I simply skipped large parts of TPM, wanting to get to the movies I love instead of enduring what I assumed was absolute dreck. 

I was mostly right in doing so. 

Going to the theater on Saturday, I had a fresh viewing experience ahead of me. The hatred and fervor behind the movie had died down. It would not only be on the big screen, but in 3D as well. This was the big selling point for the re-release and I'll admit, I wanted to see how it changed the movie. As it turns out, not even a fresh, forgiving perspective could fix the missteps Lucas took in constructing TPM from the ground up. The 3D, while subtly applied, didn't add a great deal, just more depth of field and a darker, frustrating image. In my home experience it was bright and vivid, full of clear imagery. This was muddled and sleep-inducing - the bulbs are never turned up bright enough on 3D projectors. While I enjoyed the whole ritual of going to the movies, our immediate reaction upon leaving the theater was amazement. We weren't simply trashing the film for the sake of dog-piling. It really is just that bad. 

Mr. Plinkett's review makes every single flaw with the film abundantly clear, as it is nearly as long as the movie itself. What I can do, though, is give more concise insight. 

For starters, I still can't say with any certainty what the movie is about. I know, I know. Trade routes and Federation disputes, blockades and diplomats. It's insane. Three times, now, I've seen this movie and I still shrug at the actual supposed motivations. I can't event bother with paying attention to the nuts and bolts of the political process in the movie. I get so fed up with politics in my own life, I don't want to pay attention and get invested in ones in a fantasy world. Compare that to plots in IV, V and VI - rebel spies, revenge, running from the Empire. Simple, comprehendible motivations, despite the fantastical setting.

Wooden acting is another integral problem. The only lively elements were Jar Jar and Ewan McGregor, and even McGregor was limited to imitating Alec Guiness. He got much more loose with it in the following installments. Even here it was apparent he was the only one who seemed to know not to take it too seriously. Liam Neeson is stiff and distant, very hard to root for. Natalie Portman just didn't seem to know how to play her part. Ian Mcdermid at least had a sense from his prior experience to ham it up a bit.
On top of all it is the fact that the screen and the universe Lucas created was simply so cluttered at this point. While the first three movies suggested a rich, developed universe behind the story, here it was presented as a full on, unrelenting onslaught. Every inch of the screen was packed with action and detail. The clutter was mind boggling. Seemingly every character had had or eventually had a back story or a novel or a video game spin off. I don't want to have to know all that business - I want to be able to just watch the movie and follow the action on screen.
I know I'm being harsh. There were some cool moments. Seeing the Gungan city revealed in 3D in the theater was actually pretty breathtaking, as were some of the other establishing shots. The score was classic Star Wars. The lightsaber dual wasn't bad. There were moments where the original trilogy poked through, but they were so few and far between that they couldn't buoy the film out of slow, steady sinking process. It was, as I've said, fascinating to see how intrinsically flawed the movie is at every level. I also know I'll go see Attack of the Clones next year. I'm just a glutton for punishment and too quick to give second chances, I guess.

12.31.2011

Year End

...and with that, we draw to a close.


It's been one insane year. I don't know about you, but I am about to start getting duded up for a costume party. Lots to do and miles to go, etc. I've really enjoyed writing for this site every day (or as often as possible, as the occasion would permit). Sometimes it has been a snap, when coming up with ideas. Other times I've had to push myself to get an idea out there. One little trick has been to keep a running list of things I want to cover and write about, in case the well ran dry or inspiration never struck. As a result, there have been some things I've wanted to do longer posts on but have never been able to fit in to the schedule. So rather than force a bunch of half-hearted ideas and arbitrary posts, I thought I'd just run through them all in one shot, to show what could have been. 


In no particular order, here are the ideas and things I wanted to write about and will be culling from the year's to-do file:


The Goonies - I wrote about the soundtrack, but never mustered the wherewithal to really dig into why I love this childhood staple so much. Still a favorite of mine, all these years later.


Despicable Me - Super fun and overlooked. An adorable, surprisingly funny movie with Steve Carrell and Jason Segel providing voice work. Mad scientists doing wacky stuff.


Ectopiary - A crazy, long running web comic that only gets better and better. Free and not for the faint of heart.


The Elephant Vanishes - A great collection of short stories by one of my favorite authors. Simply too overwhelming to attempt to unpack the myriad of ideas put forth.


Bioshock - This amazing game got me into the modern era of videogames after holding out for about five years. Astounding and groundbreaking in every way. A must play, if you missed it (like I did).


Earthbound - My favorite old school SNES game. The internet already had enough articles about this quirky and idiosyncratic masterpiece.


Lunds Sandwich - No joke. Didn't want to be another food blogger, but this thing had turkey, cranberry mayo, swiss and bacon on cinnamon bread. I was in heaven every time I had it. 


That about does it for 2011. It's been phenomenal for me. Thank you so much for reading. I'll see you on the other side. Happy New Year!

12.27.2011

Descending

Hola.


Hope all has been well. Hope it's been a swell couple of days for you. I indulged in a rare day off, which hopefully hasn't betrayed me as a slothful layabout. Truth be told, though, there was a sinful amount of lying about today. I took an epic morning nap. I read a long overdue chunk of the Steve Jobs biography. I also had a massive, indulgent meal of sushi with my better half and her sister, photog-extraordinaire Kate Engelmann. It was the kind of meal where they were stuffed and insisted I finish all that was on the table, which is the best kind of present to me - there is no joy like an abundance of sushi to be personally devoured. Usually it comes in smaller, more reasonable portions. Not today. Today I wallowed in fresh fish and rice. 
All of this lay in stark contrast to what happened last night. I was permitted to participate in the in-law's tradition of an annual Xmas movie, this year's choice (or perhaps resignation) was The Descendants. I phrased it as such not because I didn't want to go (to the contrary I adore going to the movies) but because there seemed to be no strong option this year. Having perused the trailers, though, this George Clooney flick seemed to be the strongest contender. Two hours later, the four of us left the theater with somewhat disparate but converging opinions. 
The Descendants is, in a way, your quintessential indie film. You've got Clooney as the charismatic and cantankerous, conflicted lead. There are his troubled, rambunctious daughters who actually provide quite remarkable performances. The plot and setting are both centered around the practical reality of Hawaii instead of our idealized Eden. Then there is Clooney's wife. She's in a coma, having suffered a boating accident that has seemingly brought her life to an end. What unfolds as a result is both terrifyingly visceral and human as well as poignant and funny. It was, though, not a soft and rolling ride.
I really enjoyed the film but I seemed to stand alone in my assessment. My better half didn't really have the wherewithal for this film, especially on Xmas. Her sis was more open to it's tale, with their mother falling closer to my sensibilities. The general consensus, mine included, was that there too little in the movie that served as relief from the soul-crushing sadness. There were times the movies was proudly genuine and heartbreaking. The trailers sold it as more of a quirky comedy, and while there were the occasional moments of levity they were few and far between. A bit more humour would have brought balance to the sine wave of emotional resonance.
Please don't take my callous take on the movie as a total dismissal. There were some great, powerful moments. In particular, Clooney is on fire here as a father, as are the girls playing his daughters. There is a scene early on where he confronts some friends about the futility of his wife's situation that gave me chills due to his delivery, which should be credited to the writer as well. The end was terribly sad, but genuine and believable. It's not a full-on uplifting movie, but The Descendants was a human story with a lot of heart that cut thought the noise and clutter of the holiday offerings by granting peace and silence in its emotional story. Check it out, if you're interested.

12.25.2011

Night Wares

Merry Xmas, gang.


Thanks for reading this. It really means the world to me that you would spend any time here. It's been almost a year since I started this project. Hopefully you've found some cool stuff as a result. I know the holidays aren't as fun for everyone else as they are for me, so that's why I broke down my Xmas Xceptions here, to give you a little relief and a dose of levity for the season. So how about one last Xmas Xeception?


Let's pretend, for a minute, that the Goth/Mall crowd didn't co-opt this one.


It's Xmas Eve, and you might be tired of all the Yuletide cheer. I've got just the thing for you. It's something dark, twisted and unlike anything else. Just try to forget about all the obnoxious Tweens sporting cheap jewelry and black nail polish. I'm saying turn off the lights and watch The Nightmare Before Christmas.


I know, it's all old hand by now. But if you try to look at it through fresh, sincere eyes, it's a pretty remarkable and dynamic piece of work. Tim Burton's impeccable blend of Halloween and Christmas hits the intangible sweet spot between childlike wonder and sinister malice. The music is all kinds of amazing and Jack Skellington is an iconic, uniquely strange character that is unlike anything else you'll see around Xmas.


Happy Holidays, kids. Enjoy this weird, special time of year any way you please. All I ask is that you make it as awesome as it can be. It's your own day. Do what you want with it. I'll see you tomorrow!

12.23.2011

Home Again

Kevin Mcallister must have been an anti-social nerd.


I realize that this stance on Home Alone sounds harsh, but hear me out. As is the annual tradition, we were watching the 21 year old movie tonight when I noticed a trend in the movie that hadn't picked up on before. You see Kevin building all of his gadgets and traps and have him talking about making ornaments with the forbidden glue gun and his dads new fish hooks.


This all makes for fitting foreshadowing to the madness that follows in the second half of the movie, but it also shows his ingenuity in Macgayver-ing his schemes. The whole thing with the mannequins as a faux party to throw the set bandits off his scent? Inspired stuff, I wouldn't have thought about that now, let alone at eight years old. So his gearhead/crafty nerd side is firmly in place.


But here's the other thing - I don't think Kevin has any friends. Not once in the three day ordeal does he think to call a friend. I'm not saying I'm throwing a ripper the minute my family disappears (actually, I did do that in high school...once) but never in his folly did he think about calling a buddy? Sure, everybody in the immediate neighborhood was out but that doesn't mean Chicago was empty. Furthermore, are there no Jews in Chicago? Not everyone is tied down for the holiday. So no friends came over, not even the kid from across the street, the talky one whose fault it was anyway.


Poor, misunderstood Kevin Mcallister. No friends and a nerdy passion for building contraptions and booby traps. He endured his darkest hour, a Twilight Zone scenario that saw him unleashing his crafty talent to save his own life. The Looney Tunes action turned dark at the last minute, with Joe Pesci threatening to bite of Kevin's fingers. Yeah, it got kind of weird there as the Wet Bandits hit the end of their rope.


They never stood a chance against that adorable little nerd, though.

Vacation

Did you guys know Juliette Lewis was in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation?


That still weirds me out whenever I see that holiday staple. I'm on vacation, taking in one nice meal after another, usually topped off with a Christmas movie. Today had me dining on some superb burgers and splitting a bottle of cab, followed by Christmas Vacation. It's no Citizen Kane or Dark Knight, but it has a lot of nostalgic charm. Since that seems to be my forte, lemme extol the virtues of this weird little movie.

It's really a patchwork affair. The movie plays out like an extended series of skits for the first 2/3rds, only to dovetail into a sub-par 'kidnap the boss and learn the meaning of Christmas' cliche. Still, the stuff that happens before that is a great bit of relatable, and insane moments.
The endless trek into the woods to find the right tree, forgetting the shovel of course. Helping your dad set up the decorations and lights. The sheer insanity of a whole slew of elderly relatives arriving en masse, filling the air with conversations about sores, symptoms and maladies. Pets making a ruckus. Sledding misadventures. Pretty much any horrible or awkward experience you deal with this season has been touched upon by this strange movie from 1989.
It is a strange movie, after all. There's a totally unrelated and unnecessary animated sequence in the beginning. Juliette Lewis is taking the role rotation of the Griswold daughter. Chevy Chase existed as a proto-Pierce Hawthorn. I'm not saying its the best movie, just a fun, cathartic and nostalgic way to deal with the holidays. Enjoy some slapstick and try not to think of all the stuff you have to do before Sunday.

12.15.2011

Little Monsters

Evening, kids.


How about a trip down memory lane? After all, hasn't that become a de facto theme to this site? I breakdown something we've all forgotten about while giving you a personal anecdote? On board? Good? Great. Let's do this. Today's Xmas Xception is Gremlins, a film like no other.
If you are roughly my age, there's a strong chance this movie gave you a serious case of the creeps when you were young. It was terrifying despite being oh so appealing to the youth market. Gremlins was part of that microgenre that blends horror and comedy in a subtle way. Ghostbusters was another prime example, as was the modern iteration, Shaun of the Dead. How could kids not get suckered in by the adorable Gizmo - voiced by Howie Mandel, nonetheless. Still, you break those three inscrutable, arbitrary rules and all Hell breaks loose. Nothing seemed safe as a kid after that. The little monsters were so devious! So malicious! The original draft of the screenplay was even darker, with decapitations and animal mutilations abound. Nasty stuff, eh? Of particular note was the over the top gore of the finale when a melting gremlin becomes a horrendous, dripping mess. It broke my mind as a kid. Hey, as an adult it still elicits a visceral reaction from me. Pretty killer Christmas movie, huh?
Oh, what's that? You forgot Gremlins was a Christmas movie? That's right, world. This nasty little staple of 80s horror was planted squarely in the midst of yule tide madness. I found myself forgetting that fact, only to see a clip of the movie online and I recalled all the snow and realized "Oh man, I have to watch that again! I haven't seen it in years!" Well, by a bit of serendipity that actually happened to me last Christmas. There had been some conflicts with my Christmas arrangements last year, and I ended up spending the holiday here in Minnesota while my better half saw her family in Arizona. I had to be back at the office the next day, so when I got back to my place in Uptown I grabbed my mail and headed upstairs. There, in a now defunct Netflix envelope, was Gremlins. By some excellent coincidence my DVD queue had synced up perfectly with me being all alone after Christmas. So I did what any twentysomething would do - popped it in and cracked a bottle of wine.
It was awesome.


Gremlins was cathartic and mischievous, a fantastic way to vent after the stress of the holiday. A little Cabernet Sauvingon didn't hurt either, but hey! Monsters terrorizing the town and ruining Christmas! What better way to indulge my inner (but most likely outer) child! While obviously dated and intentionally hokey and B-movie-esque at times, it still held up really, really well. I had a lot of fun poking through the memories of my previous experiences watching this movie and being do damned scared. Sounds like good holiday fun!

12.09.2011

Deep Thoughts

So here we find ourselves, back at the weekend.


This week was incredibly busy. It was one of those weeks where you glance at the clock and resign yourself to the simple fact that there aren't enough hours in the day. I'm okay with that,, though. It just means the days pass quickly and I have productive time at the office. Still, most nights this eek I came home with eye strain from staring at my monitor and a sore, cramped back from hunching as I crunch spreadsheets down. Fun stuff. I need to unwind, get out of my head for just a bit. To do so, I want to indulge in a secret, somewhat nerdy obsession of mine.
I love the ocean. Not just any ocean. All of them. It's the monumental concept of such a strange, alien place that fascinates my mind so. There's this completely and inherently different world that exists just beyond ours, beneath the waves. A place that makes no sense to our bipedal form, a place that was simply not made for us. We are not meant to be there. There are monsters there. How can you have any interest in the world around you and not be fascinated by this beautifully obtuse realm? Don't buy it? Fine. Watch Oceans, produced by Disneynature and tell me I'm wrong.
I saw the trailer for this doc back in 2009, just before it was released. Sitting in the dark of the theater, grinning in childlike glee, I tapped on my better half's arm excitedly, whispering "I have to see that!" While I may have missed it in the theaters due to schedule conflicts, it was one of the first Blu Rays I ever bought. Holy Hannah am I glad I did.
Oceans plays straight to my inner geek while soothing my overstimulated mind. Narrated by Pierce Brosnan, the documentary shows the beauty and allure of a place we simply cannot inhabit. Massive, sweeping vistas show the enormity of the world around us to create a sense of scale, only for the camera to plunge deeper and deeper into the abyss. Overwhelming schools of fish swirl around like tornadoes. Birds dive bomb the upper layers. An endless sea of crustaceans make the mind reel at the enormity of the fauna beneath the waves. We think of big blue sea, but its teeming with life where we least expect it. Scariest, or perhaps most majestic, of all are the whales. My mind simply cannot fathom sharing the planet with such gargantuan, intelligent creatures. The thought that there are things like that in the briny depths keeps me wary about boarding ocean liners, to be perfectly honest. They are smart, gentle and mammals, somehow. None of that makes any sense to my primitive mind. Seeing it all in high definition in the privacy of my own home, wine in hand, made it all the more engaging and captivating.
Disney's Oceans is a serene, cerebral look at a world that absolutely mystifies me. It's the perfect kind of documentary to help me blow off the steam of the week. I'd you haven't seen it, I highly recommend at least streaming it on Netflix. Go HD if you really want to see the depths from the comfort of your couch. I'll unwind. You go diving.

12.07.2011

The Right Choice

Evening.

I watched a movie recently that made me sideline any music post I had coming for today. It was damn good. So good, in fact, that I kicked myself for not checking it out sooner. There had been plenty of buzz around it when it was first released in 2008. Hey, before I even saw it there was a localized, near shot-for-shot remake. I figure for the setting and mood of the picture, it's a perfect fit for this site. Strap in, kids. It's gonna get weird.
Based on a book by John Ajvide Lindqvist, Let the Right One In is a Swedish film that blends the poignant coming of age tales we're all familiar with and the creepy, skin crawling discomfort of the uncanny and horrible. It's not spoiling much to say there is a vampire involved in the story. The promotional artwork pretty much spells it out for you. Rather, like any good story it's not the set up that's so remarkable as it is the manner in which events unfold. On top of it, the setting and performances are stellar. The cast, dominated by child actors, turn in amazing performances that are painfully real. Director Tomas Alfredson has created something truly strange and scary in this quiet, menacing movie. Let's take a closer look, eh?
12 year old Oskar is a lonely, frustrated boy. He lives with his divorced mother in an apartment in Blackeberg, outside of Stockholm. Bullies torment him mercilessly and he feels like an outcast. Through painfully raw moments we get to know the quiet boy, seeing his dark side as well as his lingering childhood innocence. When a new neighbor moves into his apartment block, a cautious friendship is struck. Unfortunately, at this same time horrible murders begin occurring in the area, culimating in a suspect being apprehended. The man in question has burned his face beyond recognition, though, to protect the one he was committing the crimes for. As the story unfolds, we learn about Oskar's lonely life, the pale and tormented Eli and how the two become horribly intertwined at such a tender age. 
Let the Right One In is the rare film that easily exists as art as well as entertainment. The cinematography is simultaneously bleak and beautiful. The performances are genuine and affecting. The pacing is masterfully plotted. What we perceive as horrendous violence is actually often only hinted at, rather than explicitly shown. Interestingly, I noticed the effect the soundtrack had on my viewing experience. What was ostensibly a horror movie felt very much like an adolescent tale of romance due to the score. It very much accentuated the contrasting light and dark elements of the film.
Forget the American remake, Let Me In. Too literal, too much of the same. Go to the Swedish version. They're the ones who know cold, bleak emotional turmoil. This movie is a crazy way to step into the winter mindset. Sick of the holidays? This is the opposite of a Xmas movie. Pick it up or stream it on Netflix, either way - keep the lights off. It's fantastic.

10.31.2011

One More Thing

Okay, let me explain.


It is Halloween proper as I write this. Spooky Month has lived and thrived in the month of October. It's dying now, fading into the cold, dark abyss of Minnesota winter. As sad as I may be to see my favorite holiday come and go once again, it's not the end of the world. Fall here is a beautiful time; the leaves are changing. The air is crisp and clear. The first snow is beautiful. There - I said the S word. It's inevitable. Every year we have to face the undeniable return of the dreaded white stuff. Again, not the end of the world - it just feels like it. The older I've gotten, though, the more I see the beauty and natural order in it. So how does this tie in with the end of Spooky Month? Simple. I want to implore you to watch the 1982 version of The Thing.
The Thing is a classic of the horror genre, with a few unique twists that still set it apart from the modern dreck. Set in a research station on the South Pole, the movie tells a paranoia inducing tale of an alien creature that can change shape. That's really all I want to give away of a plot that's well worn and almost 30 years old. To say anymore would ruin a few good surprises. Kurt Russell stars as a burly and surly helicopter pilot who unravels the mystery in front of him, one shot of whiskey at a time. When a dog from a neighboring Norwegian research facility arrives at the station, being hunted by the last surviving Norske, things go awry and an expedition is sent out to find the facts. The venturing crew find...something...in the ice. The Norwegian camp is in ashes. When they return to their outpost, Russell and co. are faced with a terrifying, inhuman force. It. Is. Amazing.
There are so many things that work well in this movie. The direction is fantastic, establishing a sense of space in a grounded, if painfully cold, place. Watching this movie almost gets me excited for winter, if that makes any semblance of sense. The cast do a superb job of recoiling in the face of indescribable monstrosities, which brings me to the crux of the movie. The monster, the titular Thing, is astounding and horrifying, even today. The practical effects are appalling in the best possible way (WARNING - NOT SAFE FOR STOMACH). Consider yourself warned - this movie is not for the faint of heart. It's nasty and ultra grotesque. In spite of, or perhaps because of the graphic and slimy gore, The Thing is an astounding watch.
I have little to no interest in seeing the recent prequel in theaters. This version, directed by John Carpenter (in his first major outing), is a perfect stand-alone horror movie. The story is told so fantastically well, the beats so well spaced and timed, the plot so deftly woven, that seeing explicitly what happens before it is simply not necessary. The chaos in the Norwegian camp was so perfectly established in this version that I just don't see the point in revisiting it to tell their story. Maybe I'm wrong here, but I just feel Carpenter's version is such a great, singular thing that it doesn't need expansion.
So there you have it. One last gasp of Spooky Month to see you through to next year. Get ready for the impending winter with a horrifying, paranoid tale of isolation and mistrust. It'll keep your mind free of cabin fever for the next season. Or maybe not. Maybe you'll just get more suspicious of your companions. Either way, enjoy The Thing. Lights off, as always.

10.30.2011

Where We've Been

Evening, gang.


If you're reading this, it's most likely Halloween where you are. I dig. I hope you're having as mega of a day as I am. I spent the previous day recapping the Saturday night hijinks, packing some boxes while watching spooky movies and opening a bottle of Cabernet to enjoy another Treehouse of Horror. Not bad, I have to say. My apartment has no kids, so no trick or treaters for me, to my dismay. I would have fun passing out candy. I would have fun with wine until I pass out, too, but that's not really a Halloween thing. I digress. This year I was a bull, my better half was a matador. Here's me:
Nice, right? Best of all - pretty darn cheap. Total cost? Five bones for the horns. All else was mine. Okay the leg warmers on my arms as hooves were courtesy of my better half. 


So I've written up and down about Spooky Month. I loved it. It gave me a chance to indulge in my spooky side and share some awesome Halloweenish things with the wider world. There are, however, some things that slipped through the cracks. These are the posts I wrote prior to Spooky Month that would have been totally appropriate to cut and paste if I had been short on time and creativity. In no particular order, you should check out:


The Thing and I - a genuinely creepy Treehouse of Horror installment, all set at night in a storm.
Silent Hill 2 - the most terrifying game I've ever played. An emotional trip, to say the least. HD collections for PS3 and 360 due out in January.
Cloverfield - A modern Gojira, my favorite monster movie. It's a crazy post-modern take on terrorist events.
Zombies Ate My Neighbors - An underrated gem for the SNes. A love letter to B Movie madness.
Crimson - Beautifully dark album from the Alkaline Trio. Lush and pulsing punk music to set the mood.
MST3K - The best way to enjoy old B Movies. Snark galore. Laughs abound. Legendary.
Old Boy - Not a horror movie, per se. Still a dark, twisted trip to the most tormented depths of humanity. Yeah.
Silent Hill - My love for a flawed, but well-intentioned cinematic adaptation of the video game series.
You Were Always On My Mind - Getting severely caught off guard by a creepy soundtrack.
Grabbed by the Ghoulies - A forgotten gem from Rare. Super fun and full of simple frights!
Maniac Mansion - One of the first great haunted house games. Packed with point-and-click antics.
House of Leaves - Watch a book eat itself like a snake swallowing its own tail.
World War Z - The definitive record of humanity's war on zombie-kind. A sprawling, epic tome.
I Hear You Calling - A great video by the band Gob with homages to Thriller.
So that about sums it up. It's been a month of scares and jumps, noises in the vents and things lurking around the corner. Hit up the Spooky label on the side bar for more goodness. Otherwise, come November 1st it's back to business as usual here. I've had a blast this past month. Hopefully you have too. I'll try to do more large scale themes in the future. Christmas Conundrum, perhaps?