Monthly Archives: May 2017

“There is much to be learned from beasts.”

The timing was perfect…

The timing was right…

Perfect timing…

The right timing…

Timing is everything…

Etc.

That can be said for Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.”

I was a decent reader, but school wasn’t helping.  We were always asked to read boring shit I was not interested in.  Especially through elementary school and junior high.  Maybe I just had shitty teachers…combination of both, maybe.  A shame actually, as I have always had a love for language.

It was in the fall of my sophomore year that I discovered the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker.  The class was Gothic Literature and the teacher was Mrs. Hughes.  It started out just like any other.  We read a few short stories (I remember, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”), we discussed them, we were asked to write an essay that was due in two days about the text, and we were assigned reading to be completed from the novel with a test to be taken in two weeks.

So I opened the book when I got settled into my bed for the evening. I remember being drawn in by the forward (the writer’s name does not come to mind).  They were able to describe the type of monster that Dracula was in so many words without giving anything that we didn’t already know away (he’s a vampire, they drink the blood of the living for food, they have a hold of power over some of their prey, etc.).  I found the descriptions from the written words interesting apart from my viewing vampires in the cinema.  This got me excited to start the story…it got even better.

The next day I was well ahead of the required reading and I was excited to talk to my friend Joseph that was in the class.

“I’m at 82,” I said to him…I was referring to pages.

He had a surprised look, “I read about 54; it’s a good book.”

“Absolutely,” I replied.

For the first time in my life I was excited about the reading time in class as well as the tests.

Between the rest of my classes and soccer practice, I was able to finish the first three quarters of the book early and Mrs. Hughes allowed me to test early.  Two more days and I was done with the book and my tests.  To top things off, I found out on Entertainment Tonight that Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” was to be released in a month.

Perfect timing right?

My friend and I were very excited to see it and we made plans to go with my father…perfect.

So we went to our local theater.  They had a rule.  All R rated features required anyone under 17 to be accompanied by their parents.  I understood it to mean, “an adult.”  They made it clear when we arrived with my friend and my dad that he was not allowed to attend without his father or mother present.

After my father told them what he thought of their business model, we walked out to the video rental store, two buildings down, and rented, “Hook,” instead.  All-in-all a disappointing evening.  I did the next best thing I could three years before the Internet was main stream…I purchased the screenplay at Hastings and read every word.

It’d be a long while before it was released on VHS.  Theatrical release-to-VHS-windows were much longer back in the 80s-90s.  I was the first to rent a copy when it came in.  Films have to take liberties when they are written, but it is the closest adaptation that has ever been made.

Like the novel, the story is told through correspondence between the characters as they describe in their letters to each other the dilemmas that they face.

Oldman as the famous Count, is brilliant.  To see Lydia Deetz as a grown woman playing Mina was a dream. Keanu Reeves was a decent Jonathon Harker and to have anyone other than Hannibal Lecter play Professor Van Helsing would just seem wrong.

Dracula was my favorite book for a time.  The movie was never a favorite, but due to the timing of my first read and enjoyment of the book and to have the adaptation come out just a month later; it felt like fate.  I don’t think I could dislike it, even if it was a sorry work of art, which it is not.  It is the last good film that the great Francis Ford Coppola made and his telling of the story is close enough to what Stoker was writing about.  

I would go on to read many other books in my life.  My tastes would change and I matured and gained a bit of education, reading other books that I now hold higher. That being said, my experience with Dracula will remain unique to me.  Another first that sparked my imagination again and reminded me just how much I love language.

I also find myself to be a “child of the night” as I finish writing this at 11:30pm.

Coincidence?

I think not… ūüôā

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“I want HIM!”

By now I would hope you know I love movies. ¬†I love every movie that I’ve written about in some way and as you can imagine, I still love some movies more than others. This next one is one I could not wait to get to, and I had to be in the right place when I wrote it as I think that it will shock you how much I love it, given that it is not deemed a “classic” by any sense of the word; it’s a classic at my house, for reasons I’ll explain shortly.

My Cousin Vinny” was one of the last movies I watched fresh with my entire immediate family (myself, mom, dad, my sister, and my little brother). ¬†I’ve written before about my father. ¬†He was generally a very somber, quiet man that didn’t say much–he laughed less. ¬†To hear it was a treat for all of us and I spent his¬†lifetime trying to be funny enough to make him laugh. ¬†I think that he gave me some pity laughs from time-to-time to make me feel better. ¬†It wasn’t the same, but I’d take them. ¬†There was only one other movie (I’ll get to it eventually) that I remember him laughing at more loudly than “My Cousin Vinny.”

I was talking with friends today about the importance of mood having an affect on how you’ll take in a movie. ¬†If you’re not feeling well, or having a general annoyed feeling, your experience of a great movie could be ruined. ¬†I feel the same goes on the other end. ¬†If you are giddy and feeling great because it had been years since a family was all under one roof together, you might enjoy a “semi-decent” comedy a little more than normal and be ready for a huge laugh. ¬†The ” ”¬†are how some might see it. ¬†My family and I do not, we love it.

I find it to be a very creative comedy about culture clash with a touch of Agatha Christie and enough of the Karate Kid to keep us guessing if he’ll have more lines…spoiler–he does not.

The premise is that two men from New York are taking a trip in their convertible through rural Alabama (Why? We don’t know, but they’re there…deal with it). ¬†They’re accused of murder and resort to inviting the Karate Kid’s “cousin Vinny” to come down and save them in court…hence the title. ¬†Enter Joe Pesci as Vinny Gambini and it was my introduction to the beautiful and talented Marisa Tomei as Mona Lisa Vito. ¬†If you aren’t grinning about¬†the character’s names already, don’t watch this movie…

Pesci Tomei

The only other movie I had seen Pesci in at this point in my life was Lethal Weapon 2.  I was aware of his comedic talent as a supporting actor.  I learned very quickly that Pesci can carry a movie when given the proper material.

The supporting actors in the remainder of the cast are great too. ¬†Lane Smith¬†as Jim Trotter III. ¬†He plays the prosecutor that is smooth and dead set on putting the defendants where he believes they belong. ¬† The ever reliable¬†Bruce McGill¬†(everybody’s favorite “Animal”) as Sheriff Farley. ¬†He has the difficult task of looking like the villain, and¬†then redeeming himself in a very crucial moment–great acting for such a small part; important. ¬†My favorite is¬†Fred Gwynne¬†(everybody’s favorite “Munster”) as the honorable Judge Chamberlain Haller.

Fred Gwynne

The material within “My Cousin Vinny” is always teetering on the edge of farce. ¬†Pesci’s¬†Gambini is a large performance and he was obviously given the freedom to go big as well as Tomei with her Mona Lisa.¬† Gwynne had the difficult task of watching “the massive” unfold in front of his bench, without playing into it. ¬†His calm, conservative, and southern demeanor amongst a foray of loud thespians (including Lane Smith¬†as the arrogant prosecutor) is what glues the structure of this fine comedy through the projector.

As always, I don’t want to get too specific and give anything away. ¬†Those of you that have seen it and enjoyed already know what I am talking about. ¬†Those of you that have not and want to, should have the right to see it fresh. ¬†Those of you that have seen it and didn’t think much of it are probably not reading this any way.

Know this. ¬†It is a movie that I hold in high regard. ¬†Any movie that can make my father laugh out loud many times and almost choke to death twice…worth a looksy…

 

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“You think anyone can do what I do? You think anyone can make the crap I make?”

For those of you that have read my post on “The World According to Garp,” you remember me stating, “My conservative family (mom and dad) are very interesting to me.¬†They knew that when they first saw this next film (referencing “Garp”), they were watching excellence, even though a lot of the source material made them feel uncomfortable.”

I know…I quoted myself… #PretentiousDoucheMuch ???

My point being, the first time that I saw “Grand Canyon,” I had a similar reaction. ¬†I knew for certain that it was excellence. ¬†It was unlike any movie I had seen before, but I didn’t know how to describe it to my friends or what to say about it.

I remember watching it with my mother.

After the first scene, when Simon (Danny Glover) helps Mack (Kevin Kline) with his broken down car, we kind of looked at each other and thought–this is weird.

Mack ends up in a rough part of town when his car decides to stop on him. ¬†He goes into the gas station to contact a tow truck, when he leaves to go be with his car, he is approached by a thug that has the intent to rob him and murder him. ¬†Simon shows up in the middle of the conversation and just starts to simply do his job like nothing dangerous is happening at all. ¬†Mack and the thug have a similar reaction–wtf???

The villain ain’t having it and approaches Simon now. ¬†Simon just plays it cool and calls it what it is. ¬†He’s here to do a job and help get this man and his car home. ¬†His logic wins out and the thief leaves. ¬†Mack, as you can imagine, is beyond grateful.

It’s one of the best written scenes I’ve seen unfold and the beauty of it is how simple it is. There’s no gun shots, no fisticuffs, just logic and conversation that wins out.

Watching “Grand Canyon” is like watching a series of philosophical conversations amongst friends. ¬†As philosophical as the conversations are, they are not “deep” in a jargon filled sense. ¬†The dialogue and script are brilliant by the great Lawrence Kasdan¬†and¬†Meg Kasdan. ¬†We understand the meaning behind the rants, the statements, and the emotional monologues. ¬†Each character that speaks believes everything that they say along with the people that they are talking to.

The cast is lights out:

Grand Canyon cast

Kevin Kline, Danny Glover, Steve Martin, Mary McDonnell, Mary-Louise Parker, and Alfre Woodard.

Watching these professionals play off of each other is a rare pleasure that most movies never find.  Each one of them is perfect in the roles they are given and the passion of their craft truly shines from each performance.  It was as if all of them wanted to be a part of this movie, rather than doing it for just another paycheck.

When it was all over, I remember not being sure if my mother had enjoyed what had just unfolded in front of us.

The credits started to roll…

The music played…

*A brief pause.*

“Now that was really a good movie,” my mother said.

I smiled. ¬†I couldn’t agree more…

 

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“This whole movie is stuff that I said to him!”

One of Hollywood’s many under-appreciated ¬†actors is in one of my favorite¬†underrated dramadies of all time.

I remember watching “The Hard Way” for the first time with one of my best friends. ¬†He was always a good sport. ¬†He would see movies well before I ever could and he never cared when I asked him to¬†watch them over again with me at my house on VHS.

I think he enjoyed watching my reaction to fresh movies as much he enjoyed watching a movie himself for the first time.

I remember when we were at the video rental store (yes, VHS…get over it) and I had asked him if he’d seen it–picking up the empty case.

“Yes,” he said. ¬†“Michael J. Fox plays Harrison Ford in it.”

*Eyebrow raised.  Jaw slightly dropped.*

“I know,” he said to me. ¬†“It’ll make sense when we watch it.”

And that we did…

Mr. Fox actually plays Nick Lang–a Hollywood action movie star that is looking for a “real” role of a “real person.” ¬†Something with substance.

Enter James Woods (Mr. Under-appreciated) as John Moss–one stern cop that will be tasked with having the spoiled Hollywood actor shadow him for research.

M8DHAWA EC001

Moss is all business–tough, smart, focused, and he has a bit of a mean streak in him after working so many years “on the street.”

I remember watching the trailers for Nick Lang’s movies within the storyline of “The Hard Way.” ¬†I know that they were meant to be heavy on the satire…Michael J. is perfect in a role like that. ¬†His charisma in a comedy when quirks are required is unmatched. ¬†His performance in the trailers are campy, but we buy it because it’s Michael J. after all.

Nick lang

Over the years I have learned to enjoy many of the performances of James Woods.  He is such an interesting actor.  He has the presence to play a leading man and even carry a movie (such as this), but he is great as a character actor as well.

As you can imagine, Moss is very resistant to taking on Lang as his shadow. ¬†Lang is naive to Moss’s detest for him. ¬†I mean, he’s a famous Hollywood actor…who wouldn’t be flattered to have¬†him follow them around all day. ¬†What an honor

Lang’s happy-go-lucky is a great foil to Moss’s cranky old cynicism.

The movie isn’t just another “buddy cop” movie (trust me, I use that phrase lightly). ¬†There is a murderer that Moss has been after for some time. ¬†We get to meet Moss’s love interest and see how she interacts with Lang…I think you’ll be surprised.

Lang’s journey is a real one. ¬†There are real threats, lessons learned, and growth on both sides of the relationship.

I remember feeling like I had seen a very Great! story unfold in front of me.  The film was much better than I expected and I am so thankful that I had a friend that refused to spoil it for me.

…so you know now…

…there’s no way I’ll spoil it for you…go see it…totally worth your time…

 

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