Monthly Archives: August 2015

“Just like old times.”– “Yeah. You start trouble and I start bleedin’.”

Before I was old enough to go hunting with my dad on open weekends, my mom and I used to stay in during the cold winters and catch a few movies together.

Shocking! I know.

We would sometimes go to the store and rent some, and sometimes we’d just sit back with a cup of coffee or hot chocolate and peruse through our inventory of copied movies.

We had a lot of movies that we would watch when we weren’t sure what we were in the mood for.  We’d call them “fall back” movies, now.  “Jaws” was a big one and “Father Goose.”  There was one movie that my mom and I picked as our “no matter what” movie, however, when we kept searching and reading and suggesting and just couldn’t think of any that’d hit the spot.

It was a movie that had a lot of what we liked:

  • great cast
  • great writing
  • camaraderie
  • comedy
  • drama
  • heroes
  • damsels
  • tragedy
  • multiple characters doing many different things
  • and redemption

It is a movie that rarely comes to mind when you mention “the greats” of all time, but if someone were to mention it as one, I wouldn’t argue with them.  A lot of people have never even heard about it when I mention the title, but when I tell them to go watch it, I have yet to have someone tell me they didn’t enjoy it.

I might be lucky with that last bit of history, but I really feel this movie holds up over time.

Bite the Bullet” is definitely a favorite of mine all time.  Let alone a favorite western, it holds up as pure cinema to me.  A lot of that probably had to do with the multiple viewings that my mom and I shared during those cold Idaho winters, but I highly recommend this film if you have never seen it.

It stars (try and catch your breath by the end of this list):

Gene Hackman, Candice BergenJames Coburn, Ben JohnsonJan-Michael Vincent, and Dabney Coleman makes a brief appearance.  

Those are just the stars.  

The people that played the supporting characters were very excellent in their roles as well including Mario ArteagaIan Bannen, and Walter Scott.  Ian Bannen’s character, Sir Harry Norfolk, has a heartbreaking scene in which I defy anyone with half-a-heart to watch without shedding a tear.  The passion and pain he shared in that scene is ironed-onto my brain and won’t leave, even if I want it to someday.  

Ian Bannen 

Mario Arteaga also comes to a very heroic, self-sacrificing end in a scene that will cause even more tears by the time you get to it.

Wow, I don’t know that I’m really selling this movie…

I’ll talk about the premise and you decide if it is something worth your time.

It is a western about a horse race across the desert.  There are 9 people that enter the race, and we gradually learn about their character(s) in the open of the movie, prior to the race starting.  We join all of them on their own separate adventures along the way.  Some of their adventures intertwine and some of them don’t.  There are characters you love and characters you love to hate.  There are even characters you love to hate that you end up loving…period; by the end. Hence the redemption that I mentioned earlier.

Bite the Bullet,” isn’t just a great title or mantra for this movie.  As the movie goes along, you realize how literal Richard Brooks was when he chose to run with that title.

 With that last comment, you kinda have to see it now, right?

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“…nothing grinds my gears worse than some chowderhead that doesn’t know when to keep his big trap shut…”

This movie was viewed on the down low and never mentioned to my parents.

When you hear the title, you’ll laugh at that notion.  You have to remember that my parents were 80s conservative in Idaho.  That’s like America 50s conservative for the rest of the world at that time…and I’m being generous.

There was A-lot-o ef words used in this movie and slight sexual innuendos (really one scene).

Mom wanted to protect us.

Everyone else I talked to said it was uproarious and I had to see it.

That’s why “heathen” cousins with mom and dads that don’t care what they watch are the best for kids like me in the situation I found myself in.

My cousins rented it and I remember starting it with my cousins, but being that they had already seen it, they were in-and-out as I sat through the entire thing, glued; frame-by-frame.

I remember smiling a lot, laughing out loud, but by the time the film was over, I was satisfied with a very warm, happy ending for an almost begrudging relationship that the two lead characters shared throughout.

It was an underrated masterpiece that I was unaware of in my first viewing.

Damn I wish comedies could get the credit they deserve.

We open with our lead character Neal, sitting silently in a meeting, checking his watch as his superior looks over some photos for an ad campaign.

The superior shuffles through the pictures…back and forth…back and forth…back…

Neal checks his plane ticket and sees that his flight is at 6:00 and is most likely to miss it if the superior can’t make a decision.  Neal wants to get home for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Eventually we learn that the decision is postponed and everyone is allowed to leave.

This, of course, only upsets our lead (Neal) even more as their presence wasn’t even necessary for the superior to have to come to that conclusion.

Steve Martin is the perfect Neal Page.  Cynical, sarcastic, bitter, and only obsessed with his need to get home in order to keep his wife happy.

Neal PTaA

Neal has a set of obstacles (we find out later that it has only been one obstacle) set in front of him that impede him from reaching his family in time.

Enter Del Griffith (John Candy).

Candy PTaA

He is a long talking, happy-go-lucky, naivete that has placed his luggage on the side of the street to trip up Neal from reaching his first cab.  He also takes Neal’s second cab while he is bickering with another would-be-cab attendant, and he ends up being his companion in coach (Neal originally had a First Class ticket, but was late and got booted) on his flight back home.

Of course the plane cannot land in Chicago…we’re only 30 minutes into the movie.  Due to the weather, the plane is redirected to Wichita and Neal and Del find themselves as companions on their rigorous trek back to Chicago.

Hence the title “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” becomes extremely effective/prophetic.

Later in my life I would watch a movie that I loved called “Tommy Boy.”  One of my favorite comedies.  “Tommy Boy‘s” roots are entwined in this movie.  Not the overall plot and arc, but the subtle comparisons with Candy and Farley and the cynical Martin and Spade on a road trip together create a variety of contrasts and comparisons.

The first shared bed, hotel scene (and the morning after) sells this movie undoubtedly.  We are first given an amazing bit of acting from Candy when he is being persecuted by Martin.  His monologue retort is telling and heart-felt, swaying the audience to his side of the conundrum plot.  We then get one of the most funny scenes ever put on film the next morning when the two find themselves cuddling in the queen hotel bed together.

The “between two pillows” line is the quote that is most notably remembered for this movie and rightly so.  But my favorite line comes after that awkward moment.

“See that Bear’s game last week?”

“Yeah, hell of a game.”

John Hughes is another creator that we never give enough credit to.

He is always written off as a writer/directer of the “80s teen angst melodrama,” but his filmography shows so much more than that:

Director/Writer = “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club,” (I know, not helping my case for someone that is more than just an 80s teen angst supporter) “Weird Science,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” “She’s Having a Baby,” “Uncle Buck,” and “Curly Sue.”  Outside of “Curly Sue,” I enjoy each of these movies.  Some have already been given an essay and some will be given one in the future.  His movies to me always walked on a line of absurdity, while maintaining a seriousness that justified real actions by the protagonists.

I have only mentioned the movies that he wrote/directed.  He wrote original screenplays for:

ALL of  the National Lampoon’s Vacation movies, “Mr. Mom,” “Pretty in Pink,” “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “The Great Outdoors,” “Career Opportunities,” and “Home Alone.”

It’s a shame he passed at age 59.  I get the feeling he had one more movie to “say something” in.


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“Stick around.”

Remember when I mentioned that thing about “firsts?”  Here’s another one.  It’s a little more “abstract” for a “first,” but a type of “first” none-the-less.

So, the first Arnold Schwarzenegger movie I ever saw was “Commando,”  Sunday Night Movie and edited for television.  The second was “The Terminator,” also edited for television.

This next one was the first one I was allowed to watch, with my dad, completely unedited on VHS.

It starts like “The Magnificent Seven,” and ends up being “Silver Bullet.”

A special military team is sent into the jungle on what is believed to be a rescue mission.  As we start our journey with them, they prove to be a formidable force.

Prior to reaching the enemy outpost, they discover a multitude of concerning circumstances that no one can explain.  There was another team that went missing on the same mission.  The group stumbles along their aircraft, and can find no explanation as to why it was brought down.  They also find a large majority of the team members corpses, hanging from a tree with their hides removed.  They know it is them because of their dog tags.

Bent on retribution now, they invade the enemy hideaway with stealth precision and eliminate all of them with no casualties on their team.

predator

Dutch (Schwarzenegger) finds out that it was anything but a rescue mission all along and he has been duped by an old “friend.”  They have also been cut off from their transport out, and have to take “the long way” around the South American Jungle.

Little did any of them know that this would be the least of their problems.

At the very, very start of this movie, there appears to be a “Mothership” alien vessel that launches a life pod down through earth’s atmosphere.  I always felt that this would’ve been a slightly more interesting movie if they would’ve left that scene out of the beginning.  Jim & John Thomas developed a great script with disturbing visuals and haunting scenes that created a lot of suspense as we watch our heroes trudge along in the forest, only to get picked off one by one.  Being that we as the viewer are in on the “alien invasion,” we don’t get to be in the thick of it with the heroes as much, knowing that they are being hunted by a monster from another world.

Don’t get me wrong, “Predator” is still one bad ass action extravaganza that changed the way I’d play with my G. I. Joe action figures moving forward.  I remember looking at all of the action figures I had, and compiling a team much like the one in the movie.  I would get all of the similar weapons that they had in the movie and match them up with the character’s and pick them off one by one.  The problem was, I did not have a predator action figure, so that was all make-believe (i.e. me).  I still pretty much reenacted this movie when I played with my G. I. Joe’s, predator available or not.

I remember being so thankful that my mom allowed me to watch that movie with my dad.  I could finally share in some of the conversations my friends had at school about the movie.  It also loosened my parents up a little on future “R” rated movies.

Pretty good “first” …

…even if it is a little abstract.


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“What? Lit?”

Pleasantly unexpected.

That’s how I’d describe this next one.

It was a movie that my friends told me about at school.  After they talked about some of the story elements, I went home and asked my mom if we could rent it.

We got to the rental store and she read the case like she always did.  She had a raised eyebrow as it was written by Stephen King.  She checked the rating and had some concerns, but she let us watch it.

There was a certain scene in which the great James Woods’ character is sneaking around his house at night during a thunder and lightning storm.  As he goes down into his living room, there is a lightning flash as he sees himself in the mirror–startled–he screams and then realizes it was his reflection as he gathers his emotions.

I don’t remember my father laughing harder at a particular scene in a movie.  My dad was always very excited when he got to use the VCR.  He would rewind scenes that he wanted to see over and over again.  I remember him rewinding the first time we got to see the Millennium Falcon jump into hyper space.

He rewound this scene 3 times!

That outburst from my dad set the tone for the rest of the movie, and we enjoyed it.

Cat’s Eye” is a movie with three stories to tell from a cat’s point of view.  It is cast very well and we were able to enjoy three short movies in one.

james alan

The first story stars James Woods and the great comedian Alan King.  Woods hires King to help him kick his smoking habit.  King uses questionable tactics to get his clients to quit smoking.  Fear of physical harm to you and all the people you love.  This creates suspense and puts our point of view (the cat’s) in danger as well.  Creative story telling.

hays cats eye

We follow our cat voyeur to the next story and he is immediately put in peril. As a “fat cat” dirty businessman uses him as sport, gambling on whether the cat will survive crossing the very busy boulevard downtown.  The “fat cat” bets on the feline and takes him home when he makes it across.  At home we find Robert Hays who is forced by the “fat cat” to climb around the 12″ ledge of his 12 story building if he wants to live after committing adultery with the “fat cat’s” wife.  Disturbing, gripping, and a hint of redemption.  What can you expect from Stephen King?

troll cats eye

The final story is the one that spurred me to run home and tell my mom to rent this as an 8 year old when my friends told me about it at school.  Drew Barrymore (I knew her as the little sister on “E. T.” at this point) is a child that is being robbed of her breath at night from a troll that is the size of a rat.  Her trusted new kitty is there to protect her, in spite of her parents that do not trust the pesky feline for a number of reasons.  Suspense, horror, and a little bit of comedy in this one.

I hope I never forget the outburst of laughter my father had the first time he saw James Woods startle himself in his own mirror.  It made it easier for my mom to relax with the subject matter, giving us an enjoyable little film to watch together.

Can’t ask for more than that.

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“If you can dream it, you can do it.”

I watched a TON of Disney movies growing up.  I don’t just mean their animated movies.  We had cable television from 1980-1984.  That included the Disney Channel.  Not to mention, ABC aired two-and-a-half Disney movies a week after school from 4pm-5pm Mountain Time until I was about 12 years old (1989-it might have gone on longer, but I started competitive sports around that age and watched way less television because of practice after school) .

Being that there were so many, a lot of them flow together in my mind (“Bedknobs and Broomsticks,” “Mary Poppins,” “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” “The Gnome-Mobile,” “Pete’s Dragon,” etc.).  All of these are great, but they do not stand out apart in my mind.  There are four that do:

POLLYANNA


I love movies that have heart.  This one is huge.  I remember watching a bunch of boring, snobby adults at the beginning of this movie.  Enter Pollyanna.  Hayley Mills as a child star in the 60s for Disney was what Henry Thomas and River Phoenix were as child stars in the 80s. This is the first movie I remember watching where I saw a young lady light up the screen by walking into frame.  The costumes, lighting, and direction deserve a lot of that credit, but there was nothing like young Hayley Mills.  To watch the story of a very depressed neighborhood being influenced on very deep emotional levels by an unapologetic, inspiring little Buddha of a girl was quite moving.  Like “E. T.” this movie made me feel many emotions from beginning to end and I challenge people that generally cry at movies not to cry at this one.

THE SHAGGY DOG

There is a lot of cool stuff about this movie.  A boy that gets cursed and turns into a dog.  It sounds like a horror movie, and it does have some of those elements, but it plays as a mild-adventure/comedy.  It has Annette Funicello (hubba hubba) as the teenage love interest and one of my favorite underrated actors, Fred MacMurray as the father.  Its’ a very interesting comedy with slight dark elements and a loving boy that wants to protect his family.  It stuck with me I think because of the transformation special effects.  I saw it at a very young age, before I was jaded and thought that cursed people might really turn into dogs.

THE PARENT TRAP


Sweet Hayley again, and this time, it’s double trouble.  I love the story.  Twin sisters, who had no clue about the other, meet at camp for the first time, and decide to switch places (the daughter that lives with mother goes home with dad and vice versa).  Needless to say, shenanigans ensue in many different scenes and the story ends up taking off on levels that I didn’t see coming.  This film features Brian Keith (another underrated actor) and the boisterous Maureen O’Hara.  The story and the acting all around are what stuck with me over the years with this romantic comedy, and I try and watch it at least once a year.

…and my favorite Disney “kids” movie (probably of all time)…

THE ABSENT MINDED PROFESSOR


This was a visual extravaganza for me at a very young age.  I wanted flubber to be real, so bad.  I was a runt of a kid and I could’ve used anti-gravity on many occasions at recess.  To see a man role up flubber into a ball and watch it continue to bounce and bounce all over the room was incredible to me.  I couldn’t look away.  My dad was a racquet ball player and the balls that the professor made reminded me of the racquet balls my dad had lying around the house when he came home from a match.  Our unlikely hero used flubber on his shoes at a dance to impress some town folk (and his estranged love interest), on the local height-challenged varsity basketball team’s sneakers, and on his own shoes to fight local gangsters. I’d like to thank Mitchell Francis @mjfrancis59 for reminding me of this wonderful gem that I adored all those years ago as a wide-eyed five-year-old.  I can’t wait to revisit it again, soon.

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