Five Good Things for 12/8/2015

Five things I encountered today that were interesting, educational, beautiful, edifying or that I otherwise found to be…well, good. None of these are promotions and I do not receive any benefit from sharing them. I just like them.

It’s time for the annual end-of-year onset anxiety, complete with a constant nervous feeling, too much work to do, and even more disrupted sleep than usual. I’m going to try to keep up at least with a daily links post, but I don’t know how much else I will get done until the New Year. Then everything will be shiny and new and different and I’ll sleep like a baby and find keeping up with work and writing a total breeze… right? Oh well, till then, enjoy some awesomeness from the internet.

giphy (2)1) Rare Exports might be my new favorite Christmas movie. I don’t want to say too much and spoil anything, but it’s a Finnish horror movie about the horrors experienced in a small town when the real Santa Claus is unearthed from his tomb. Hilarious, scary, and just plan weird if you haven’t experienced it, you need to.

56197-Oh-I-Cant-Believe-My-Eyes2) PBS has a video of a live from Lincoln Center performance of some of Danny Elfman’s most memorable music scores, including some from the Nightmare Before Christmas, featuring Elfman singing. It’s a great retrospective on a long, iconic career, and so much fun to hear Jack Skellington come to life.

Continue reading “Five Good Things for 12/8/2015”

31 Days of Halloween Days 28-30 – Must See Halloween

October is Halloween movie month! Having been completely deprived of any kind of Halloween experience growing up, I now spend 31 days celebrating with film and TV. I like to shoot for a mix of old and new, horror and comedy, from the slightly spooky to the totally terrifying to the just plain weird. Each day of October I’ll reviewing one of these ventures in the realm of the creepy and supernatural. Some will be high quality cinema and some will require large amounts of alcohol to survive. Stock up on seasonal beer and Fireball-apple jello shots and join me! A warning, though – unless the review is of a very recent release, HERE BE SPOILERS.

Partially because I ran out of time, and partially because my penultimate three Halloween movies have been so well-written about that I doubt I can say anything new, I decided to do a quick, joint write-up about them. Tomorrow, I’ll post my final Halloween pick, the instant classic “Over the Garden Wall”. Happy Halloween, everyone!

Most-meta – Cabin in the Woods, Day 28

MV5BNTUxNzYyMjg2N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTExNzExNw@@._V1_SX640_SY720_Synopsis: A group of college students go away for the weekend to a cabin, where unbeknownst to the them, they become part of an annual ritual to protect humanity from the Old Gods, which involves their suffering and deaths. Things don’t go quite as planned, as not just the “virgin” survives but one of the others as well. She refuses to kill her friend, the Old Gods rise, and the world ends.

tumblr_m3tykz3bng1rodf0wCabin in the Woods is Joss Whedon distilled into a single movie. A brilliant satire of horror tropes, a take-down of the torture porn genre, and stuffed full of references, it’s hilarious, scary, and everything you might expect from Whedon. The concept is brilliant – what if this cliched scenario of hunted teens was really run by a high tech group of normal guys, tasked with protecting the world by making sure the regular sacrifices take place on schedule. They’re detached from the pain they are causing, running an office pool on what monster the teens will self-select and casually celebrating while our Final Girl fights for her life because “the virgin’s death is optional, as long as she suffers”.  The redundency built in around the world is also interesting, the idea that this goes on in multiple places just to be sure nothing goes awry. Although I do wonder if all the rituals have the same requirements – the one we see in Japan seems to abandon the slut/jock/nerd/loser/virgin set up in favor of a bunch of school girls.

The movie surprised a lot of people when it opened, as it was marketed as a straight-up horror movie of exactly the kind it was mocking. A lot of Whedon’s favorite themes are evident here. His fixation on the Final Girl, who is the ultimate Final Girl this time when the world is destroyed by her actions. The idea that the ultimate evil can be caused by regular folks, just doing their jobs, and the concept of a larger group pulling the strings and ordering the lives and deaths of young folks for some kind of twisted greater good (see most notably the origin of the Slayers in Buffy). The main concept Whedon wants to hammer home, though, is that there are some lines that shouldn’t be crossed. If a yearly sacrifice is what it takes to keep humanity alive, then we don’t deserve to be. And then he kills everyone. But he has a lot of fun along the way, with an all-out slaughter of everyone working in the bunker that involves all the monsters they’ve been keeping. Stabby unicorns, tentacle monsters, werewolves, creepy girls, cannibals. It’s a horror fan’s wet dream, gruesome, bonkers, and funny.

Rating: 8 out 10 – You couldn’t wish for a better commentary on horror, our love of horror, and human nature, while still having a good time.

Runner-up: Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

Funniest – Young Frankenstein (Day 29)

young-frankenstein-movie-poster-1974-1020294653Synopsis: The grandson of the rather more infamous Doctor Frankenstein, returns reluctantly to Transylvania to take care of his family’s estate and finds himself overtaken by the family obsession, creating his own monster who then escapes and must be recaptured and healed of his abnormal brain.

young-frankenstein-gifThis Mel Brooks classic is easily the funniest Halloween movie ever made, if not quite the funniest Mel Brooks movie ever made. Not so much a parody of but a tribute to the early Universal horror movies, particularly the 1940’s Frankenstein and its sequels, it lovingly recreates the setting and feeling of these classics (Brooks even went so far to retrieve the original laboratory props to use, which had been languishing in the propmaster’s garage for decades) and then uses it as a springboard for ridiculous, corny, slapstick humor. Young Frankenstein has the highest gag-per-minute rate of any movie I’ve every seen. They throw everything – puns, sight gags, innuendo – at the wall and sees what sticks. Most of it does. Young Frankenstein is one of the few movies that gets funnier the more times you watch it.

The cast is superb, with more comedy geniuses than you can shake a stick at. I honestly can’t imagine this movie being nearly as good with even the smallest casting changes. Gene Wilder wrote the script with Brooks, and as such perfectly inhabits the character of Fredrick Frankenstein, hesitant mad scientist. The cast was clearly having a blast during filming (so much so that Mel Brooks added more scenes to film because everyone was having so much fun) and it shows. Some movies are magically perfect, with not a hair out of place, and will stand the test of time forever. Young Frankenstein is timeless, feeling forever old and new at the same time. There are lots of funny horror movies, but few that rely on classic comedy techniques instead of splatter.

Rating: 10 out of 10 – Wouldn’t change a thing, will rewatch at least once a year till I die.

Runner-up: A distant second, but in a similar (if less sophisticated) vein is Ernest Scared Stupid

Kinkiest – The Rocky Horror Picture Show

the_rocky_horror_picture_show_posterSynopsis: An innocent, newly engaged couple stumble into the castle of mad-scientist/transsexual/alien Dr. Frank N. Furter and find themselves tangled in a web of sexual escapades and alien invasion plots.

983c7a0d90f1022471475017e439cfb9Rocky Horror is one of those movies that has to be seen to believed. It’s more than a horror movie. It’s more than a sex comedy. It’s more than the self-billed science fiction double-feature it claims. It’s more than a cult musical hit. It’s about desire, particularly the kind we sublimate, and the dangers both of denying those desires and of letting them get out of control. And it’s also a crazy, sort-of drag show whose purpose is titillate, confuse, and entertain. Rocky Horror taps into something deep in all our psyches we might not totally understand, but are fascinated by. And the movie suggests to us that it’s okay to explore these urges – provided we don’t over-do it.  The longest running theatrical release (40 years), it’s more than a movie, it’s a phenomenon and a deep part of our culture.

Rating: ? out of ? – There’s no way to rate a movie like this, it must be seen to be believed.

Runner-up: None.

Bloodsucking Bastards – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 24

October is Halloween movie month! Having been completely deprived of any kind of Halloween experience growing up, I now spend 31 days celebrating with film and TV. I like to shoot for a mix of old and new, horror and comedy, from the slightly spooky to the totally terrifying to the just plain weird. Each day of October I’ll reviewing one of these ventures in the realm of the creepy and supernatural. Some will be high quality cinema and some will require large amounts of alcohol to survive. Stock up on seasonal beer and Fireball-apple jello shots and join me! A warning, though – unless the review is of a very recent release, HERE BE SPOILERS.

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Bloodsucking Bastards (2015)

Starring: Fran Kranz, Pedro Pascal, Joey Kern

Synopsis: Evan works a at sales company selling male enhancement products over the phone, along with his ex-girlfriend Amanda and his best friend, Tim. Evan has been working towards becoming sales manager but is disappointed when his old rival, Max, is brought in instead and he’s relegated back to the sales pool. Things start changing around the office, with some people disappearing and others undergoing a change of personality that makes them work harder than ever. Evan remains largely oblivious to the very clear fact that everyone is being turned into a vampire, which is at first only noticed by Tim and a security guard, Frank. He’s more concerned with Max putting the movies on Amanda. Eventually, however Tim and Evan, along with Frank and Amanda, set out to fight the vampires and take the office back from Max. After a long bloody battle they eventually defeat Max and Evan and Amanda get back together.

video-bloodsucking-bastards-videoSixteenByNine225This movie is Office Space meets Shaun of the Dead meets 30 Days of Night – a middle management comedy with vampires and buckets of blood. The metaphor of a charismatic vampire who turns the company’s performance around by transforming the employees into mindless subservient drones is neither subtle nor revolutionary, but it is very appealing for those of us who have worked in offices with this sort of management structure (ie, most people). Max’s explanation that this is the perfect place for vampires, since it’s a windowless office full of pale people who already work late into the night, rings unfortunately true for my own cubicle based existence (hey, if I stand on my tippy-toes I can see a window sometimes).

Continue reading “Bloodsucking Bastards – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 24”

Tremors – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 20

October is Halloween movie month! Having been completely deprived of any kind of Halloween experience growing up, I now spend 31 days celebrating with film and TV. I like to shoot for a mix of old and new, horror and comedy, from the slightly spooky to the totally terrifying to the just plain weird. Each day of October I’ll reviewing one of these ventures in the realm of the creepy and supernatural. Some will be high quality cinema and some will require large amounts of alcohol to survive. Stock up on seasonal beer and Fireball-apple jello shots and join me! A warning, though – unless the review is of a very recent release, HERE BE SPOILERS.

Tremors-1990-Movie-Poster

Tremors (1990)

Starring: Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, and and Finn Carter

Synopsis: Two feckless handymen, Val and Earl, work in around the tiny town of Perfection, Nevada. One day, they begin to notice strange happenings, including people disappearing. They find the body of a local man dead of dehydration at the top of an electrical tower, still holding his rifle. When their truck is attacked by a snake like creature coming up from under the ground, they realize everything is connected. On their way to get help, they encounter the creature again, which they name the graboid, and discover that the snake like things are just the tongues. The graboid is much larger than they thought. They manage to defeat it by running it into a concrete wall, but Rhonda, a local grad student doing seismology research in the area, tells them her equipment indicates there are three more of the things on the loose. They narrowly escape one of these by using the erratic boulders present in the landscape and pole vaulting between them to get to their truck, as the graboids can only move through loose soil. The three return to warn the town, but there’s no time to escape and although they are able to kill one graboid, the remaining two corner the townspeople and eventually drive them out of the buildings and onto a boulder. They manage to kill one of the graboids with homemade explosives but the final one is too smart. Finally, Val gets the idea to lure the graboid to the edge of a cliff and set the explosive behind it. The graboid bursts the cliff edge and plummets to its death.

Tremors-1990I’ll be honest, Tremors isn’t really my kind of movie. I mean, I love a good monster movie (think The Host). And I love a really, really bad monster movie (think Lake Placid). But Tremors is not quite either of those things. It’s a straight-up monster movie, not intentionally bad, not fantastically great, but definitely all about the monster. Tremors is the classic 50’s monster-attacks-small-town movie (think Night of the Lepus or Kingdom of Spiders) remade for the 90’s, with a funnier script and better creature effects. Unfortunately for Tremors, I’ve never been truly in love with that genre, although I’m not entirely unappreciative of it. I can recognize that the movie does a great job of playing tribute to and freshening up the mid-century B monster classic, even if it’s not that enchanting to me personally.  Continue reading “Tremors – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 20”

What We Do In Shadows – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 19

October is Halloween movie month! Having been completely deprived of any kind of Halloween experience growing up, I now spend 31 days celebrating with film and TV. I like to shoot for a mix of old and new, horror and comedy, from the slightly spooky to the totally terrifying to the just plain weird. Each day of October I’ll reviewing one of these ventures in the realm of the creepy and supernatural. Some will be high quality cinema and some will require large amounts of alcohol to survive. Stock up on seasonal beer and Fireball-apple jello shots and join me! A warning, though – unless the review is of a very recent release, HERE BE SPOILERS.

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What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

Starring: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Johnny Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer

Synopsis: Set up in mockumentary style, What We Do in the Shadows follows four vampires (Viago, Vlad, Deacon, and Petyr) who are flatmates in a New Zealand suburb. The first part of the film largely shows their daily lives and routines and explains their histories. The plot gets going when one of the vampires, Deacon, enlists his human servant, Jackie, to procure some victims for them. One of the victims, her ex-boyfriend, Nick, ends up being turned into a vampire instead of simply being drained of blood. He begins to hang around with them, and is kind of a drag. He often brings his still-human friend, Stu. At first the other vampires want to eat to Stu, but eventually they become friends with him and he helps them learn how to use modern technology. Unfortunately, Nick’s loose lips about his vampire secret attract the attention of a vampire hunter, who follows him to the house and kills Petyr, the oldest of them. Nick is shunned from the group and takes Stu with him. After several months, they all reunite at the undead masquerade ball. They also discover the ball is being hosted by Vlad’s ex, “The Beast” and that Jackie has gotten Nick to finally turn her into a vampire. A fight breaks out over the fact that Nick brought Stu, as pretty much everyone there wants to eat him. The group escape the ball but run into a pack of werewolves. It’s a full moon, so the werewolves attack and Stu is turned into a werewolf. In the end, Nick makes up with the other vampires and they decide they like Stu enough to still hang out with him. They even agree to be friends with the other werewolves. Viago, using the internet with Stu’s help, reunites with his lost love (who is 90 years old now) and turns her into a vampire, Vlad gets back together with The Beast, and everyone is generally happy with how things have turned out.


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What We Do in the Shadows is a pitch perfect, Christopher Guest-style mockumentary. Made in New Zealand by Taika Waititi and one half of Flight of the Conchords (Jemaine Clement) and using all local actors, it had a tiny budget and an even tinier initial release. Pretty much every scene was almost entirely improvised, with the actors told only the basic structure of the scene they were to be performing. Somehow, these conditions all combine to produce a hilarious, critically-acclaimed vampire satire that has finally managed to get the world-wide distribution it deserves. It’s a movie that sneaks up on you and makes you happy to be caught. Continue reading “What We Do In Shadows – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 19”

Ghostbusters – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 18

October is Halloween movie month! Having been completely deprived of any kind of Halloween experience growing up, I now spend 31 days celebrating with film and TV. I like to shoot for a mix of old and new, horror and comedy, from the slightly spooky to the totally terrifying to the just plain weird. Each day of October I’ll reviewing one of these ventures in the realm of the creepy and supernatural. Some will be high quality cinema and some will require large amounts of alcohol to survive. Stock up on seasonal beer and Fireball-apple jello shots and join me! A warning, though – unless the review is of a very recent release, HERE BE SPOILERS.

ghostbusters

Ghostbusters (1984)

Starring: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Sigourney Weaver

Synopsis: After three parapsychologists, Venkman, Stantz, and Spangler, are fired from Columbia University for their questionable research methods, they set up shop in NYC as “Ghostbusters”, promising to investigate and dispose of any haunting spirits that might be troubling the public and containing them at their offices. They have some early successes and soon their services are in such high demand they need to hire a fourth team member, Zeddemore. One of their clients, who Venkman immediately begins to pursue romantically, is a cellist named Dana who has been experiencing hauntings in her building. Dana becomes possessed by a spirit called Zuul, the Gatekeeper, and her annoying but well-intentioned neighbor by a spirit known as the Keymaster. If the two come together, it would open a portal and summon the ancient Sumerian god, Gozer the Gozerian to wreak destruction on the world. The Ghostbusters work to prevent this, but unfortunately their celebrity has attracted the notice of the EPA, who arrests them for disposing of waste (the ghosts) improperly and accidentally sets all the captured spirits free to haunt the city. The team talk themselves out of trouble, but Gozer has already been summoned, along with the Destructor, who takes the form of a giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. The team manages to defeat Gozer and destroy the portal by crossing the streams of their proton packs, which is dangerous but causes the burst of power they need. The spirits are banished, the marshmallow man explodes, Dana and her neighbor are rescued, and the team is hailed as heroes by the very sticky city.

ghostbusters-image-100294Ghostbusters was originally a summer blockbuster. It was a fairly (for the time) big budget film with big special effects that was actually a really funny comedy. Such a beast was rare at the time and even rarer now. Even though the ghosts look a little hokey today and the gender politics are a mess, Ghostbusters holds up surprisingly well after over thirty years. It’s well paced, tightly plotted, and the comedic dynamics between the main characters are unsurpassed. The original script, written with John Belushi in mind for the role of Venkman, was much darker, much weirder, and would have cost up to ten times as much to film. Although I’m sure Belushi would have been fantastic, this movie manages to hit a very particular sweet spot while a move massive budget endeavor would likely have collapsed under its own weight.

Continue reading “Ghostbusters – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 18”

The ‘Burbs – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 9

October is Halloween movie month! Having been completely deprived of any kind of Halloween experience growing up, I now spend 31 days celebrating with film and TV. I like to shoot for a mix of old and new, horror and comedy, from the slightly spooky to the totally terrifying to the just plain weird. Each day of October I’ll reviewing one of these ventures in the realm of the creepy and supernatural. Some will be high quality cinema and some will require large amounts of alcohol to survive. Stock up on seasonal beer and Fireball-apple jello shots and join me! A warning, though – unless the review is of a very recent release, HERE BE SPOILERS.

the-burbs-movie-poster-1989-1020203502

The ‘Burbs (1989)

Starring: Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher, and Rick Ducommun

Synopsis: In a stereotypical suburban cul-de-sac full of colorful characters, one man, Ray (Hanks), on his stay-at-home vacation becomes suspicious of the new neighbors and their strange, late night activities. The Klopeks are a peculiar eastern European family who live in a run down mansion and seem to never go out. Ray’s friends become convinced that the Klopeks are up to something and, although Ray sort of plays the skeptic to their paranoia, he develops an obsession with figuring out what’s going on over there. When one of their elderly neighbors disappears, the neighborhood guys believe he’s been murdered by the Klopeks. The wives of the men organize a visit to the Klopeks in order to put to rest their suspicions, and they discover that it’s a family of two brothers, one of whom is some kind of doctor at the University. His nephew also lives with them, a strange, slightly werewolfish boy named Hans. The family is very odd and they find all sorts of darkly portentous things in the house, but all of them are explained away harmlessly. The women are convinced the Klopeks are just eccentric, but nice, folks. Ray and his friends are unconvinced and decide to break into their basement to look for bodies. They find nothing but in the process, Ray hits the gas line and the house explodes. He is remorseful and apologizes to the Klopeks for suspecting them, realizing they are not murderers and appalled at what he’s done. In an unexpected twist, however, the doctor assumes Ray must have seen all the skulls he was hiding in the basement and tries to kill Ray. Ray manages to escape and open the trunk of the Klopeks car for the police, where there is indeed a collection of human skulls. The Klopeks are arrested and Ray decides to take his family to the lake for a real vacation.

b209cbfed2bfdf2ce6e4f1273494d536The ‘Burbs is a classic ’80’s black comedy. It’s filled to bursting with tropey characters from the era. The unstable Vietnam vet, the provocatively-dressed sexy neighbor wife, the cranky old man, the slightly idiotic best friend who comes over and eats all your food, and the deadbeat teenager who says “dude!” way too much. The ‘Burbs throws all these stereotypes into a blender and produces a cult classic. Maybe it’s the double twist ending. Maybe it’s the fact so many of us grew up in this exact sort of neighborhood (although mine was never so entertaining). Or maybe it’s just the pure gratification of Ray being vindicated in his crazed rantings. Who hasn’t had a gut feeling about someone or something that no one else believed, but you just knew in your soul that you were right? Ray is the hero of everyone who’s ever been disbelieved by their friends and family.

Continue reading “The ‘Burbs – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 9”