Monthly Archives: June 2016

“Did you notice anything weird a minute ago?”

For those of you that are familiar with my blog, you know that I enjoy a movie that knows what it is, and that can give itself a wink.

This next one does just that, close to better than any other movie I’ve already written about.

“Creature Features” used to be about the jumps, the loud screeches, the shock, the aw–they became comedic in the 60s and 70s (excluding “Jaws” and it’s brilliance) when the audiences started realizing how phony all of the props became and “Mystery Science Theater” had a purpose.  I feel that the creators of this movie knew that they could create an atmosphere of suspense and danger, while encouraging us to laugh along with them.

Like all great Creature Features (and taking a lead from “Jaws“) we start out with an unknown force from below that can attack at a whim and devour a person in seconds…when I say below, I mean underground.

Yes, this movie borrows a lot from “Jaws,” in a good way and creates one of the most interesting monsters for a Creature Feature in a while.  An underground “land shark” if you will…and there’s more than one.  Why not ratchet the tension up?

Tremors” offers more than suspense and laughs.  For instance, I truly enjoyed the chemistry between Kevin Bacon‘s Valentine McKee and Fred Ward‘s Earl Bass.  I will be as bold to say that I’d put it right up there with Robert Redford and Paul Newman in “The Sting” or “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”  There is a true sense of life struggle, camaraderie, frustration, and years of understanding that these two share within the first minute of their screen time together.  We get a sense that the two of them know what the other is thinking, and could really finish each other’s sentences if they needed to.

tremors

I have a limited number of people in my life that can sit in a room with me during a meeting, read the expression on my face, and know what I will want to do about the challenges we are facing together to remedy the situation, just by looking at me.  Having a bond like that with a co-worker, friend, spouse, can alleviate  a lot of pressure and allow for confidence and support as they know you are aware of what to do, and will not need to have another discussion about it as you carry on with your problem solving.

Valentine and Earl share that bond. What better interesting blue-collar duo to save the world from these monstrous freaks of “pseudo nature?”

Many people die along our journey…it is a Creature Feature after all, and the necessity for danger must always be at the forefront if we want to stay interested.  The monsters turn out to be more formidable than expected throughout the endeavor and leave us clenched to our seats until the final, fulfilling moment of truth.

I’ve had a recent post about the “Silence of the Lambs.” Those of you that have read me for some time are familiar with my “Jaws” post as well.  Those movies were very great at creating true tension against very honest environmental antagonists.  “Tremors” is aware from the get go that we’re dealing with a fantastical element that no one has seen before, and attempting to create a tone of absolute crisis would be dishonest with the spectacle matter.  There is tension, but there are also deep breaths that allow for pause, with humor and wit.  After all, when was the last time you saw the town drunk get eaten feet first by an underground, overgrown crustacean with five eel tongues?

What’s that?

Didn’t think so.

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“…you’re about a half a bubble off plumb…”

This next one I remember enjoying because my sister’s pseudo boyfriend (Varsity Quarterback, singer, 6 foot hunk–I wanted to be him) watched it with our family and he let us know ahead of time that it was a really good movie as he had already seen it.

So…did I like this movie because it was good, or because of the experience I had watching it?

Does it matter?

I like the damn movie.

It’s a movie that has a story that is completely based around a gimmick.  It’s set in Australia and a very rich rancher, Sheriff of Nottingham (obviously I’m talking about the late great Alan Rickman-RIP), pays A-LOT-O-MONEY to a protagonist that has a very special set of skills…eat your heart out Liam.

Ok, really he has only one skill and that is that Matt has an 1874 Sharps rifle that can accurately murder “game” from 1200+ yards away.

The movie is a simple good vs. evil story with a really cool gimmick that the writers and directors were very good at showcasing.  I feel like before they decided to write this movie, someone had gone to a gun show where they saw the Sharps in action and they were like, I’m going to make a movie about this and BOOM…”Quigley Down Under” was born.

We love Tom Selleck in our family. We watched “Magnum P. I.” We saw “High Road to China,” “Lassiter,” “Runaway,” “Three Men and a Baby,” (and it’s sequel) “Her Alibi,” and “An Innocent Man.”  “Quigley Down Under” is easily my favorite.

A lot of it starts with the writing.  Matt Quigley is true to character with a lot of interesting sayings and great “cowboy speak” lines:

“We already run the misfits outta our country. We sent ’em back to England.”

“I don’t know where we’re goin’, but there’s no sense bein’ late.”

“God created all men. Sam Colt made them equal.”

“I don’t eat things that are still movin’.”

Matt is a different man than all of the men he will be facing in opposition at the plantation when he finds out that the real reason he is there is to kill Aborigines.

tom selleck quigley down under

He is beaten along with the “whore with a heart of gold” character, played by an underrated Laura San Giacomo, as Crazy Cora–they are to be left in the Outback to die.  

Of course that doesn’t happen and of course we have a build up that leads Matt back to the plantation for the final show down.

Is it simple?  Sure.  It makes for a great adventure and has a sound climax and conclusion outside of your expectations the first time you see it.

I remember I had a theory about what would happen in the final showdown.  The film is very good at making Matt look invincible when he is conscious and has his Sharps in his possession.  He is vulnerable throughout the movie without it.

The night before the showdown, Rickman is seen emptying his six-shooter into the air–without purpose.  I proposed that he’d be out of bullets during the shoot out, giving Matt an advantage with a weapon “he never had much use for.”  I remember turning and looking at my sister’s pseudo boyfriend as he was sitting next to her with a HUGE grin on his face as he acknowledged what I had said.

Know that I was very wrong…and thankful that I was.

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“What does he do, this man you seek?”

In 1990 at age twelve, I passed for age eleven…

Ok, I passed for nine…I was a little guy.

It was the end of May, the first weekend of summer break, and being eleven was important, because eleven year olds and younger got into the  Drive-In for free in Shelley, ID.  It was the first time I was hanging out with my older cousin and his friend–who could drive–away from my aunt and uncle’s house with no supervision.  My cousin was thirteen, his buddy was fifteen.

Our goal was to go get some fast food and hit the Drive-In.  It was a double feature.  I can’t for the life of me remember the other movie, but the one I can remember is one of the best I’d ever seen…I’m not exaggerating.

I remember being nervous when we went to pay for our tickets since one of the features was rated R and children under seventeen generally had to be accompanied by their parents.  I knew I could pass for eleven, but I thought I’d still mess things up because I wasn’t with my dad.  I can’t remember what my cousin’s friend said to the ticket clerk, but we all got in and I didn’t have to pay.

I love the Drive-In experience.

Summer time…outside under the stars…in the back of the pickup on a mattress pad with a blanket if it started getting a little chilly, the analogue speaker right next to you.  The screen looked like a floating saucer in the sky.  I always felt like we were on the bridge of the Enterprise, watching those scenes unfold in front of us.

I remember the MGM Lion with the patented double roar as the opening of the film begins in the eerie woods “Near Quantico, Virginia.”  I am sure the adults knew this was going to be an FBI story…I was elev–twelve.  I didn’t know that FBI training occurred there until after I saw this movie.

While in the woods, the camera panned to a set of two ropes, and I remember seeing a very disheveled, woman use one of the ropes to make it over the steep hill and into the frame.

The score by Howard Shore was ominous.  It had a tinge of, “Things are okay, we’re out in nature…but you better have eyes in the back of your head Clarice.”

Clarice

Yes, for those of you that have guessed it by now, the feature was “The Silence of the Lambs,” and rarely has there ever been a movie with lasting power like this one.

Jonathan Demme was masterful at dealing with mood and tone with his use of lighting (lack there of; some would say), filming on I believe 16mm–gave it a sense of a documented news reel; and the focus and attention that was put into the Starling character made it a fascinating thriller.

People would classify this as a “horror” movie.  I have never liked the label of “horror” for a film that did not have Bela Lugosi as Dracula or Boris Karloff as the Frankenstein Monster.  Films like “Jaws” and the “Exorcist” are given that label too, as well as a lot of Stephen King novels.  I don’t like the label because I believe our initial, gut reaction is not to take them seriously and hold a small smile at the notion of ghouls, ghosts, and goblins. I find all of these as examples of things that thrill us.  These are thrillers that help us experience a range of human emotion like holding us in suspense, shocking us, disgust, anguish, and redemption.

It’s fair to say that those emotions, and many more, can be felt by the viewer that is willing to become engaged with these characters.

It was an experience to see a woman like Clarice Starling that took the lead to find a murderer.  Prior to this, I found myself watching men chase down bad guys.  This was a breath of fresh air.  Never had I seen a hero seek out help from a maniac before.  Another interesting concept.

hopkins

I remember the second that we are introduced to Dr. Lecter, as the camera pans around the corner into his cell, that he would be a character that would not be easily forgotten.  Rarely has there been a performance with such little screen time with SO much impact.  Truly a performance worthy of the label “art.”

I found out later that this was based on a novel and I had to read them.  I started with Red Dragon and then read The Silence of the Lambs.  Thomas Harris is a great writer and I find them to be must reads for people that enjoy writing.

After it was over, I had to spend the night at my cousin’s house.  The spare bed that they had for me was not in a bedroom with a door.  It was part of a jumbled, unfinished basement that would eventually become a very nice family room.  The ceiling was not covered in sheetrock yet and there were a lot of pipes and beams jutting out of it.  Being that the room was a “work in progress” it became a place where extra stuff started to gather–like a large junk drawer.  There was a spare bed in the corner that I was to sleep on that night.

Yeah right.

If you haven’t had a chance to see it, do it.  Just make sure you’re sleeping in a familiar environment.  That’ll give you at least half-a-chance at a nightmare-free night; but I make no promises…

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“We call it the Ego Trip.”

I want to tell you that I was interested in this next one because the plot was intriguing.  I want to tell you it was because it’s special effects were fresh and innovative.  I want to tell you that it was because it had multiple twists and turns that kept you second guessing yourself at every point.  The film had all of this…but those were not the reasons I really wanted to see this movie to begin with.

Unfortunately at 13 years old, I was shallow, and *clears throat* … developing?

It’s a phrase.

Anyways…the movie was released in theaters when I was 12, it was available on VHS when I was 13 and all my friends had seen it.  I of course, had not.  It was rated R after all and there was no way I was going to wait for a made for TV version for three crucial reasons…

I’m realizing this will be the post that finally gets me into trouble with some of my audience.  Apologies, but without honesty, what are we, really?

My friend Jimmy:  So I saw Total Recall

Me: Yeah?

Jimmy: You seen it?

Me: No.

Jimmy: There’s a lady with three boobs in it…

Me: (jaw drops, eyes widen)…

Jimmy: Yeah…three.

At this very simple stage in a straight young man’s life, the only goal is “more mammary.”

Deal with it.

So I did what I always did when my parents wouldn’t let me watch something I wanted to.  I went over to my cousins and made sure they rented it.

On my first viewing, this is what my brain was doing:

Where are they? Where are they? Where are they? Where are they? …

At approximately the 45 minute mark (the pseudo moment of truth).

Disappointing.

I had built myself up too much for it and found out the hard way that two’s plenty and thank you.

Needless to say, I watched it again and shifted my focus.

It was a great movie.

TOTAL-RECALL-RED-PILL

This is the fourth Schwarzenneger  movie that I am writing about.  “Predator” is easily in my top three of best “pure action” movies of all time.  “The Terminator” introduced me to great science-fiction and story elements.  “Commando” was just fun. “Total Recall” was fresh, exciting, intriguing, packed full of action and kept you guessing even through the end credits.  It’s the first Arnold movie when I finally sat down and watched it for what it was and realized that Arnold was actually a better actor than anyone gives him credit for.  Like John Wayne, I think we right him off as typecast and as another big dumb guy that talks funny.  I’m here to tell you that “Total Recall” proves he is much more than that.

Our premise is a future world where Mars has been semi-colonized for its resources and a man that is living a dreary life decides to take a virtual vacation (lays in a machine and experiences his adventure in a dream state) to Mars.

This is a movie with mutated human/martians (three boobs–remember?), brain probes that need to be extracted through your nose canal, malfunctioning robotic disguises, eye-popping suffocation scenes, and femmes fatales  galore.

It sounds ridiculous, but this is a movie winking at itself the entire time while delivering a very suspenseful tale trickled with moments of great action.  I mean, Arnold is in it after all.

The entire setup is to determine whether what he is experiencing is real or virtual.  I’m telling you, I’ve seen the movie five times.  I don’t know if it is real or virtual.  I believe what I want and I think that Paul Verhoeven wants all of us to draw the same conclusion; whatever you desire.

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