Friday, October 29, 2010

Weekly Film Rec: Hausu

I feel like all I've been doing this past week is Halloween recommendations and really, I have (you can see for yourself here). This will be my last horror recommendation in this space for a while just to give you all a break. Fortunately, I saw Hausu before the end of October so I can squeeze it in before the self-imposed moratorium.

Without question, this is the most insane, off-the-wall, bonkers, nusto film I've ever seen and I took a whole semester on avant garde filmmaking (ok... so most of that stuff is just boring). It's a hallucinatory haunted house movie with an identity crisis. It's almost too wacky to be scary and too crazy to be funny. The effects are ridiculous but do their job completely.

The plot sends a group of girls (all named for their dominant feature or personality trait) to a friend's aunt's house which happens to be haunted. There's some ghostly back story about her aunt and an old love the doesn't really make too much sense, but nothing here really does. Eventually, the girls go missing through increasingly bizarre circumstances. My favorite has to be Kung Fu, who fights off an attacking horde of flaming logs, among other things, with her awesome kung fu skills. Also, there's an evil cat (aren't they all?).

Words can't do this film justice. You simply need to look at the DVD cover art to find out all you need to know. I'm kicking myself for not checking it out when a local theater showed a 35mm print. This will become a regular in the scary film rotation. And if you don't watch it on your own, I will eventually make you watch it. Thank you Criterion for bring this movie into my life!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Top 5 Films: Montana

I've finally hit a state for which I can't find five films to recommend. Not only could I not find five, I couldn't find one that I could really get behind. A random suggestion brought about this inevitability prematurely, but I'm kind of glad it happened. No sense in always taking the easy way out in life. This no one has seen fit to use Montana as a setting for their great opus, I'll still list five movies for you, but they will represent five separate, arbitrary categories of my choosing. Note that it's apparently impossible to set a contemporary movie in Montana.

Best of the Bunch: Little Big Man
There's nothing wrong with Little Big Man, in general. I just found my mind drifting in and out through the film. Perhaps it's because the scope of the film entails following a man's exploits (Jack Crabb, played by Dustin Hoffman) essentially through his 121-year life. It's told in flashback, which I don't particularly care for as a narrative device and it gives the film a very episodic feel. I also think that I like Arthur Penn, the director, better in my mind than in actuality. That all said, the film is great to look at, well-acted, and features Faye Dunaway at the peak of her beauty. It's also interesting for the fact that Hoffman plays the character as a 17-year old all the way to the 121-year old (even Martin Short in Clifford couldn't compete with that).

Best Movie that Mentions Montana: The Hunt for Red October
Not so much an endorsement for the film, though it's pretty good, but more for Sam Neill. A Russion submarine crew goes AWOL with their newest sub and Sean "I can only speak with a Scottish accent" Connery leading the way. Sam Neill plays Captain Borodin and has but one desire: to see Montana. Notably absent from the trailer... Sam Neill.

Movie to Avoid Ever Seeing: A River Runs Through It
One of the coaches of my undergrad baseball team put this on while we were traveling back from a game. I've never heard so much outcry to have a movie turned off and be banned from ever being played again. It's, to put it simply, boring. The only thing more boring that fishing is watching other people fish. I can't even make it through the trailer. May you have better luck. And yes, that is a very young Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Best Movie that My Older Sister Loved: Legends of the Fall
Much like A River Runs Through It, it stars Brad Pitt and takes place in Montana. I've never seen it, but my older sister loved it (clever category title, eh?).

Best Movie Shot in Montana that Destroyed a Studio and a Career: Heaven's Gate
Ego, cost over-runs, and horrible press pretty much crushed United Artists and Michael Cimino's (The Deer Hunter) career. It's pretty famous, actually, and most of you probably already knew this. Interestingly, you can't really see the theatrical release anymore to understand what the hubbub was about. You have to sit through the 219 minute version as opposed to the 141 minutes of the original. Even more interesting is that this longer version is somewhat praised. Maybe one day I'll work myself up to sitting through it. Maybe.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Weekly Film Rec: The Innocents

I apologize for that absence of posts the past week or so (though not about the lack of recommendations because the Romero stuff should've kept you more than a little busy). Things got crazy what with a special guest for a week where awesome times were more important than awesome blogging, then getting back into the swing of things (plus, my garbage disposal broke while we simultaneously had a clock in the drain that spilled water all over. That set my day back a bit).

Anyway, none of that matters because I've only got two more weeks of recommending solely horror films (as opposed to doing it every other week). Most people seem to regard The Haunting as the eminent haunted house movie, at least in terms of classic films. For my money, that honor has to go to The Innocents. Released two years before The Haunting, The Innocents offers up more scares and suspense than almost any other film of the era (and I'd argue ever, even with the changing aesthetics of horror films). Don't get me wrong. I love The Haunting (and watched it last Halloween alone before I knew anyone here in Portland), but it's time for The Innocents to get some recognition.

Perhaps most striking about the film is the cinematography. Black and white rarely looks this good and apparently, jokes flew about the set and Shepperton Studios the D.P. Freddie Francis was trying to burn the place down with all of his lights (another anecdote states that star, Deborah Kerr had to where sunglasses between takes). Francis directed several Hammer Horror films, which could use their own Film Rec feature, but I'll lay off those for now. Interestingly, Francis would later shoot The Elephant Man for David Lynch. I can't help but think this film had an enormous influence on that decision.

Director, Jack Clayton, wanted to distance the film from the Hammer films that were being shot concurrently in England and did so with great success. The Innocents avoids some of the more exploitative tendencies of the Hammer Films and creates an incredible sense of foreboding. The audience really gets into the head of the governess, Miss Giddens (Kerr, who had quite an impressive career). Her dread and paranoia becomes ours.

The film is based on the story "The Turn of the Screw" by Henry James (something I remember being told not to read unless I wanted to be terrified by some high school English teacher. I'll show her! I just bought it from Goodwill for two bucks!) and was co-written by Truman Capote, who becomes more fascinating the more I encounter him. Definitely check this movie out for Halloween. Hell, a The Innocents and The Haunting double feature would be just about perfect.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Weekly Film Rec: Romero Non-Zombie Films

Seeing as how I missed last week due to a Florida excursion, I wanted to make it up to you all somehow. And given that it's October (my favorite month, incidentally, and should be the real name of August [and I know the history as to why, or at least the apocryphal story]), I want to stick with horror films.

I never really watched much of Romero's films outside of the Living Dead stuff until recently. My earliest excursion was Martin about two years ago and I remember being terrified by images of Creepshow when I was really young, but I never watched them the whole way through (or even through one segment). Having explored his work deeper, it saddens me that he seems to feel that he can only make zombie movies anymore (his last three films have been Land, Diary, and Survival of the Dead). Apparently, he's working on a remake of Argento's Deep Red, so it's good that he's moving away from the zombies, but he's heading into remakes (to be fair, much like most of Argento's work, Deep Red deeply flawed even if it has moments of gruesome elegance).

I'm just going to tackle this in chronological order from earliest to most recent. Obviously, I can't recommend stuff I haven't seen, so there will be a few gaps in the chronology, though not too many. Plus, I've seen most of his "big" works. On with it!

The Crazies (1973)
The Crazies was recently remade into a film that I will probably never see. It's actually very similar to zombie films, just with less viscera. I'd call it a precursor to 28 Days Later (which throws the viscera back in, thus making people think it is a zombie film). A town where people have been going crazy becomes the subject of a quarantine and a small group of people are trying to escape. Men in HAZMAT suits with guns are around every corner and a cure is quickly trying to be found before the entire town has to be eliminated (kind of like what the government wanted to do in The Simpsons Movie: the New Grand Canyon). Of course, people in the small group on the run become infected and troubles brew inside and out. There's a overwhelming sense of hopelessness, much like the end of Night of the Living Dead.

Martin (1977)
Apparently, this is George Romero's favorite film of his and marks the first collaboration of Romero and special effects icon, Tom Savini. It's a vampire story unlike any other because it's so rooted in reality. There's no turning into bats, no sprouting fangs, daylight doesn't kill Martin. Pretty much, the film does away with all of the classic vampire lore except the one thing that matters: Martin drinks blood. The pacing is pretty deliberate, but then, so are many horror films of the '70s (and before). Unlike with most vampire films, the stakes (I assure you, pun not intended) feel much greater for Martin since he doesn't have the benefit of being supernatural.

Knightriders (1981)
This is one of the more bizarre films I've ever seen and, no, not a horror movie. I'm not exactly sure how Romero came up with the concept. It's like he mashed up the Hell's Angels and Renaissance Faires. A group of artists ride around the country staging motorcycle jousts for country folk. They are poor, but largely happy. That is until they realize that there's money to be made. The group divides and there is a power struggle. The only thing that prevents Knightriders from being truly great is its length. It's 2.5 hours long, but in that time, there is a great journey. Ed Harris and Tom Savini are the main headbutters, with Harris the "king" of the troup and Savini desirous of the throne. Nearly the entire community is well-drawn and have there own story arcs, which is one benefit of the running time, I suppose. This helps the movie come to an inevitably melancholy, but joyous end. Definitely a movie that gets better the more I think about it.

Creepshow (1982)
Born out of a love of EC Comics and written by Stephen King, Creepshow is five tales of the macabre. While not every vignette is created equally, Creepshow is tons of fun. Everytime I go to the beach, I can't help but think, "I can hold my breath for a loooooooong time!" Incidentally, the tale that quote comes from is also the one responsible for some of my nightmares as a kid. Damn the presence of Leslie Nielson snookering me into thinking it might be funny (the young me was too overwhelmed by the horror to notice the funny)! Also appearing are Ted Danson, Hal Holbrook, Ed Harris, Tom Atkins, and Adrienne Barbeau. There's also a Creepshow 2 written by Romero (again based on King stories), but it's not nearly as good, aside from the excellent The Raft segment. I'm including the trailer simply because it's awesome.

Monkey Shines (1988)
After my recent "monkey with a knife vs. octopus" discussions, I'm more convinced than ever that an octopus would win after seeing Monkey Shines. A quadriplegic, Alan Mann, gets a helper monkey that was donated to be trained by his scientist brother. What starts off as a cute, handy little house helper starts getting into Mann's mind and runs about killing people. It seems there are only two ways to go with helper monkeys: murderous rampage or this...

What could be a completely silly concept is actually incredibly tense. It helps that the main character is nearly incapable of defending himself. It's kind of like the end of Rear Window when the killer comes over to L.B. Jeffries' apartment. A final note on the film: the monkey sounds were provided by none other than Frank Welker, the go to man for all your animal noise needs

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Top 5 Film: Ohio

I have certain friends that would literally spell this one out for you, as they went to a certain school in Ohio that shall remain nameless. There's really no reason that I picked Ohio other than saying to my girlfriend, "Pick a state" and she gave me this one.

I'm getting a little bit nervous about being able to find 5 worthy candidates for each state and may have to adapt the arbitrary number accordingly. I do like a challenge, though, so we'll see what happens together. If anything changes, you'll be the first to know. On with the list!

American Splendor
I'll admit that this one is a bit of filler. I enjoyed the film when I watched it and thought Giamatti was great. A lot of mileage is gotten out of using the real life subjects and their actor counterparts, but aside from that and some interesting images, American Splendor kind of went in one ear and out the other. I've been meaning to give it another shot, but there are so many movies to see that it's always pushed to the backburner. However, this is the sort of "comic book" movie I want to see. No more superheroes.

The Faculty
I'm not a huge Robert Rodriguez fan. I've been entertained by some of his stuff, but mostly I'm uninterested. Of his films, The Faculty is probably my favorite (aside from the offensively bad covers of Another Brick in the Wall Parts 1 and 2). The cast is comprised of an impressive variety of performers (something Rodriguez has a knack for): Josh Hartnett, Elijah Wood, Jordana Brewster, Salma Hayek, Bebe Neuwirth, Famke Janssen, Robert Patrick, Usher, Christopher McDonald, and Jon Stewart(!). I remember stories from the set about John Stewart being the only adult who really hung out with the kids. Makes sense. Some complain about the film just being a bunch of references, but I kind of dig it in the way I dig Shaun of the Dead (a much better film). I like seeing the huge The Thing set piece (where they test who's an alien). Hell, if I didn't, I wouldn't be allowed to like the X-Files episode, Ice, which is a bigger riff on The Thing that The Faculty could ever be. It's just a fun, silly, high school aliens-are-taking-over-our-bodies type of movie.

Major League
This movie is in my veins. It's one of the earliest films I remember watching repeatedly. I'm not really sure why my parents let me watch an R-rated movie so much, but it's appreciated. I even remember hiding my eyes at the sex scene (where there wasn't any nudity) because I didn't want them to think that I was interested in it. Like most baseball movies, the team to beat in the end is the Yankees. My only consolation is that being the case, the Yankees tend to lose in the end (unless the movie is, you know, about the Yankees). Probably the most surprising thing about Major League for me today is that Dennis Haysbert plays Pedro Cerrano. That man is ripped! Also notable, my nickname as a young pitcher was Wild Thing, probably because the first game I ever pitched I didn't get an out or give up a hit, but proceeded to walk (or bean!) every batter I faced. Finally, James Gannon is the classic manager in my mind. Sadly, he passed this year. The man had the best voice in film.

Tommy Boy
An undisputed classic of dumb comedy. Not a moment is unquotable or unfunny and it has a huge heart. This amuses me because apparently Roger Ebert said of it, "No one is funny in Tommy Boy. There are no memorable lines. None of the characters are interesting..." I guess there's no accounting for taste, though it makes one think how much nostalgia influences the viewing of movies. Someone at suggested that the appeal of Ghostbusters was purely nostalgic, an opinion to which I can only respond, "FIE!" Anyway, it still makes me sad that Chris Farley's choices led to an early grave. I'm incredibly intrigued to see how his version of Shrek would've come out. I like to think he would've made a few more bad movies then become a stellar character actor. Sigh...

A Nightmare on Elm Street
So I could've burnt up every space on the Ohio Top 5 with Nightmare movies (including Freddy vs Jason, which is awesome!). I even left off Jason Goes to Hell, which allegedly takes place in Youngstown just so I wouldn't overload you with horror. So, we'll just go with the best out of them all. I love the way Nightmare blurs the line between dream and reality. At any moment, the film could turn into some surreal, well, nightmare. The image that always sticks in my mind is Freddy's form pushing through the wall above a victim's bed. So creepy. Who cares if I've been afraid of Freddy Krueger for about 20 years or that I still have dreams where he pops up and leaves me afraid to return to slumber after he scares me awake because I know he kills in dreams? The movies are just so damned entertaining! Even when they get cartoony and kind of bad they are tons of fun, especially when Johnny Depp returns for a cameo Freddy's Dead (Depp also gets one of the best deaths in horror history).

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Sleepover Shows

Some of my friends from Boston University are up to something. While it seems like many of us are still trying to find our little niche in life, waiting to fall into something big (or actively searching for it and meeting nothing but rejection), Kelly, Rob, and Aviv are well on there way somewhere. Even they don't know the destination, but it's still early in the trip. It's one thing to have big ideas but an entirely different thing to act on them (a battle I'm constantly facing).

It does my heart good to see my friends working on something that is theirs. Something they conceived and are creating. Something that is connecting with people. And that's what I want it to do. I want their work to connect with you. It's the reason for this post.

I know most of you love music and you love discovering new and interesting music. My friends over at Sleepover Shows are doing this for you! Here's what they're all about:
Sleepover Shows are three song sets of acoustic or stripped down versions performed by bands that we love as they make their way through Boston. Though it started as something we did when bands needed a place to crash on the night of their shows, we now mostly film the sessions before or after a show and let the bands find their own ways home (though the offer still stands).

Basically, we try and use our spaces as creatively as we can. We've filmed in the backseats of cars, on top of playground equipment, in doorways and alleys, in bathtubs and stairwells. We try our best to get the bands to take their music outside of the confines of the studio and have some fun.

And that's the point: to capture some great music that maybe isn't always as polished, but shows these artists having a good time doing what they love. We're doing what we love too, and hope you enjoy the videos!
To make matters sweeter, for all of my Oregon friends, Kelly grew up here and went to the University of Oregon. For all of my Pennsylvania friends, Aviv is from Philly. So it's like you're supporting local talent! Rob is from New York, but we don't hold that against him. Check it out and love it like you love hot cocoa by a fire on a cold day.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Tropicana Field Revisited

Just over a year ago, I made a trip to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL (Home of the Tampa Bay Rays) for a Red Sox - Rays series. My grandparents have season tickets located in the upper deck just behind home plate (a location the yielded me my first and only foul ball). Anyway, the experience was not the best. This time I was bringing a guest who'd never gone to a professional baseball game. I secretly hoped that the experience wasn't going to kill any desire for her to ever return to a game let alone watch one on TV.

To set the stage, the Rays just needed to win one game to clinch a playoff spot (they've since clinched the division thanks to help from the Red Sox taking two out of three from the Yankees in the final series of the season, but don't get me started on the Rays fan at Busch Gardens who "boo"'d by Red Sox hat who had apparently no understanding that she should be routing for the Sox that weekend). They were playing the Baltimore Orioles, owners of the 4th worst record in baseball at the end of the season, who had been playing well lately. Just the day before, Rays players were complaining about the lack of attendance for their playoff push (which is a whole other discussion given some of the press and public reactions). Apparently, the complaints helped a little because attendance was up about 5000 fans.

Maybe it was the fact that the Red Sox are a bigger draw than the Orioles, but the whole experience was exponentially better this time than last year. Sure, the horns need to be banned (and a quick look at stadium rules would lead one to believe that they already are), but the cowbells didn't seem nearly as obnoxious. Gone were a lot of the annoying songs and even the Ryan Seacrest-wannabe was toned down. The Ray Girls were barely noticeable, too! Maybe it's because I was less invested in the game because I wasn't trying to focus all my energy on bringing the Sox victory (it works, I tells ya!), but the whole experience was far more enjoyable.

I've never had the opportunity to see any team clinch a playoff spot in person (nor have a gone to a postseason game, which makes me very sad) which the Rays did that first night we went. It was quite an experience. As a baseball fan in general, it's hard to not feel happy for the fans and the players, especially of a team who had ten years of last place finishes. It's nice to see a well run, low to mid-market team succeed.

Unexpectedly, the experience made me incredibly homesick for Boston. I didn't watch any full Red Sox games this year and missed nearly all of the excitement of any possible playoff chase (of course, the Sox did there best to make the last weeks of the season as stressful as possible). I miss the feeling of fall baseball in Boston and the excitement at Fenway. It was a feeling that stuck with me the rest of the night, made worse by the fact that it meant my team was eliminated from the playoffs (the Yankees won that night as well), and that I live in a city with no professional baseball (and maybe no minor league baseball any more).

The next day, the Rays gave away 20,000 free tickets for the last regular season home game. They were gone in 90 minutes. It made for an interesting dynamic (at least to me). Here you have fans that were supposedly annoyed at the players for calling them out for not bothering to support the team in the playoff chase showing up the day after the Rays clinched and cheering them on like they'd been coming all season. My grandparents said that the Rays' television audience is one of the largest in the league, so I guess there are lots of fans, but it seemed slightly hypocritical to have them cheer so hard and I wondered what the players felt about it taking free tickets to get fans to show up (incidentally, the fans started the wave in the 3rd or 4th inning. I hate the wave, but that said, that's WAY to early to start the wave). The Rays gave the fan their money's worth by getting shut out by the Orioles for the second time.

However, even with 35,000+ fans, Tropicana Field was tolerable. Maybe if I'm to enjoy Rays baseball, I have to have no rooting interest (or at least mild interest in Rays success). I extended a courtesy by not wearing my Red Sox hat to the games, and Tropicana Field extended on back to me.