Posts Tagged ‘classic film’

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)

History is about to be rewritten by two guys who can’t spell.

Welcome to the 80’s, where fashions are loud and the teenagers are incomprehensible. Welcome to California, where everyone, like, totally talks like a surfer. Meet Bill and Ted, two average high school students righteous dudes who are about to embark on an excellent adventure in order to pass history class.

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure is a sci fi comedy film directed by Stephen Herek, based on characters created by writers Ed Solomon and Chris Mathesen for improvisational theater. It stars Alex Winter, Keanu Reeves, George Carlin, and a motley handful of historical figures.

In the year 2688, San Dimas is a peaceful utopia, inspired by the music of the historical band known as the Wyld Stallyns. However, this future is in danger, because in 1989 the founding members, one Bill S. Preston, Esq., and one Ted “Theodore” Logan, are just a couple of metalhead slackers who are in danger of failing history class. If that happens, Ted’s father, the Chief of Police of San Dimas, will send Ted off to a military school in Alaska, forcing the band to break up. And that would be bogus. An agent named Rufus is sent back in time to offer aid in the form of a time-travelling phone booth, while the Stallyns try to hammer out a report on how various historical figures would react if presented with the modern day, without much success. After a bit of convincing from themselves from 24 hours in the future, the lads decide to give it a shot. When they accidentally bring back Napoleon from a foray to Austria in 1805, they are struck with the idea of actually bringing historical figures to the San Dimas of 1989 and setting them loose to see what they think. Naturally, a lot of hilarity ensues.

This is one of the classic comedies of the late 80s, and the movie that introduced the world to Keanu Reeves. It’s goofy and fun and plays merry hell with both time travel and history, just because it can. The two leads are unabashed slackers who start out thinking that Joan of Arc is Noah’s wife and don’t understand the historical significance of many key figures beyond their being a bunch of “old, dead dudes”. However, despite their baseline boneheadedness, the Wyld Stallyns are genuinely good-hearted people and care about each other in a hetero life partner sort of way, and the idea of being separated potentially forever clearly distresses them for reasons other than the breakup of their band. George Carlin’s portrayal of Rufus is somewhat nearer the “Mr. Conductor” end of his acting spectrum than the “Foulmouthed Cynic” end, and while his mentorship only lasts as long as pointing the Stallyns in the right direction for success, his handful of scenes are memorable as he acts as a Intertemporal Yoda.

Now, while at first blush this might appear to be just another stoner comedy (even though the boys don’t appear to be stoners so much as ditzy Californians), if you pay attention you will notice some very clever points scattered throughout the pure comedy. For example: Rufus never tells the Stallyns his name – they learn that bit of info from their future selves. In fact, they learn a lot about time travel from their future selves – and they seem to grasp it fairly readily once proof is offered (indicating they may be smarter than they appear). All the jokes involving Sigmund Freud (him getting attacked by the drape attachment on a vacuum cleaner, his corn dog drooping after he gets shut down by some girls in the mall), Genghis Khan in the sporting goods store (he actually assesses an aluminum baseball bat as a potential weapon, testing its strength and balance before going on a merry rampage), Beethoven tearing it up on electronic keyboards in a music store (even though he is close to deaf at the time they nab him, the speakers could easily be cranked up loud enough that even he could hear it), Napoleon’s exploration of San Dimas (he gets recaptured at a park named Waterloo, which is incidentally the name of the city where he was captured in real life) and the multiple temporal gambits the lads set up at the end to make sure they get their historical figures set up in the auditorium in time (which would require a hell of a lot of linear thinking on their behalf) combine to make you think while you’re laughing your ass off, and with a bit of afterthought you realize that all the potential paradoxes have been tidily ironed out (though this doesn’t seem quite so funny when you realize that all the historical figures most likely died shortly after being sent back).

If you’re looking for a multilayered time-traveling comedy that takes standard history and runs off giggling with it, I highly recommend Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. You will be laughing your ass off at the stoner moments and the “aha!” moments alike, and the time travel, while mainly a vehicle for comedy, is very well done. Get this one for your collection.

The Lion King (1994)

It’s the Circle of Life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the Circle
The Circle of Life

The Lion King is a Disney animated feature film, the 32nd film in the Walt Disney Animated Classics. It features music by Elton John and Tim Rice, with an original score by Hans Zimmer. It stars the voices of Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Rowan Atkinson, Nathan Lane, a Whoopi Goldberg.

The birth of Simba, the son of King Mufasa and Queen Sarabi, is a momentous occasion at Pride Rock. All the animals have gathered to ceberate the presentation of the newborn lion cub – all except one. Mufasa’s brother Scar knows that Simba’s birth means he will never be king of Pride Rock, a fact of royal succession that chafes at him. As Simba grows, Mufasa and his hornbill majordomo Zazu attempt to teach him what it is to be king, but Simba would rather play with his friend Nala than listen to his lessons. When Scar executes a plan to assassinate both Mufasa and young Simba by wildebeest stampede, he is nearly successful, but Mufasa sacrifices his life to save Simba. Scar convinces the distraught cub that Mufasa’s death was Simba’s fault, and Simba runs away from the Pridelands in shame, narrowly escaping the hyenas that Scar sent to finish him off. As Simba grows to adulthood in the care of a meerkat named Timon and a warthog named Pumbaa, he turns his back on what he sees as his own mistake, but his past will soon return to haunt him. Simba will be forced to make a decision once and for all: continue running and leave the ruined Pridelands under the rule of his cruel uncle, or return to claim his heritage as the Lion King.

The Lion King is a richly layered animated tale, with beautiful visuals from Simba’s birth and presentation to the animals of Pride Rock, through the terror of a meticulously rendered windebeest stampede, through the despair of Simba’s exile to his epiphany and triumphant return. The characters are distinctive, even the extras in crowd shots, and the animation is fluid and graceful, like a traditional Disney animated film should be. Even though the cast are all animals, you see elements of humanity in them: the rough-and-tumble exuberance of young Simba simultaneously reminds us of a kitten and a preadolescent human. The quiet strength of Mufasa instantly invokes the reaction, “This is a king.” It helps that the characters are designed to bear a passing resemblance to their voice actors, seen most vividly in Scar, who is basically Jeremy Irons in lion shape.

The story is also deep and engaging, reminding one of such stories as Hamlet or any number of biblical tales regarding future prophets abandoned and found in strange circumstances. It is a universal story, one of tragedy and redemption that cuts across all cultures and is helped, not hindered, by the comic relief antics of the happy-go-lucky Timon and Pumbaa. Every character fits a classic archetype: the exiled prince, the scheming uncle, the wise but quirky mentor, the well-meaning but initially annoying advisor, the childhood friend turned love interest. And far from being two-dimensional stereotypes, each character feels well-rounded, as though they have a lifetime of development behind them. Everyone has had a father figure like Mufasa, a teacher like Zazu, a best friend like Timon or Pumbaa. The hyenas (though ill-served here as a species) embody the sense of greed and consumption that fuels Scar’s plans, and even Pride Rock itself is a character, a Fisher Kingdom that reflects its ruler: lush and fertile under Mufasa, but desolate under Scar. Everything works together organically, providing stories wrapped in metaphors embodied in characters so that you feel like you are a part of the world that has been created here.

While Disney’s traditional animated features became a bit hot-or-miss towards the end, The Lion King remains as one of their best feature films. Produced during the height of the animation department’s operation, this film remains as a family classic that will endure for years to come.

Jaws (1975)

04/05/2011 1 comment

Sharks are pretty badass. On their own, many species of shark are the closest thing nature has come to a living chainsaw/garbage disposal combination. They are perfectly suited to hunting in the water, and they’re shaped a lot like torpedoes with teeth. Of course, of all the species of shark that stalk the seas, the one with the most bloodthirsty reputation has got to be the great white, thanks to a little book by Peter Benchley and a little-known director named Steven Spielberg, who combined forces like the Wonder Twins (only less lame) to produce a horror movie that made audiences of 1975 mortally afraid of cellos at the beach.

Oh, yeah, and they were afraid of being eaten by sharks, too.

Jaws is a horror film directed by Steven Spielberg and based on the novel of the same name by Peter Benchley, starring Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton, and a frequently-malfunctioning animatronic shark named Bruce.

When a swimmer off the shore of Amity Island is killed, torn apart by an unseen force, the new police chief, Martin Brody, finds himself confronted by the possibility that there is a shark hunting the waters off the beach. However, the mayor is reluctant to close the beaches, as rumors of a shark attack will ruin the summer tourist season. The medical examiner reverses his initial ruling of death by shark attack and records it as a boating accident, and Brody reluctantly goes along with it, hoping it was just a freak incident. However, when a boy is attacked by a shark on the beach not long after, the evidence can no longer be ignored; the beaches are closed and a bounty is placed on the killer shark’s head. Brody ultimately finds himself teaming up with an oceanographer and a mercenary shark hunter to try to hunt down a killer great white that’s determined to snack on the denizens of a small island…

As with many horror movie series that started off good and then spiralled off into stupidity, the original Jaws is excellent. The accepted progenitor of the summer blockmuster, Jaws broke box office records of the day and put the fear of Bruce into moviegoers, with the result that beach attendance dropped sharply in 1975. Not bad at all, consider that you don’t even see the shark for the first half of the film. This decision (which legend holds is due to the animatronic shark repeatedly acting up on set) wound of the tension beautifully, to the point that you just about shit yourself when you see the thing for the first time. While nowadays the animatronic shark might seem a bit goofy and fake, nothing quite compares to that initial “OH GOD WHAT THE HELL IS THAT!?” moment.

The core cast was also excellent. Roy Scheider as reasonable authority figure Chief Brody was well-casted, and we share his frustration as he is forced to weigh OMG SHARK against the tourist season (which just proves that mayoral types in 95% of these types of movies just need a kick in the head). Richard Dreyfuss as oceanographer Matt Hooper makes his role as Captain Exposition fit in well, explaining the ways of sharks to non-Islander Brody as well as the audience. He’s the expert – that’s what he was called in to do. Hooper’s foil is Robert Shaw’s Quint, who also knows what sharks can do (his story about the sinking of the Indianapolis is based on actual history) and thus absolutely hates them. This film is surprisingly character-driven for a monster movie, making the plot every bit as much about the human cast as it is about the killer shark. The logical result is that the shark menace is more convincing – you are actually concerned about the people of Amity Island rather than waiting for a bunch of obnoxious sterotypes to get eaten.

If you’re sick of cookie-cutter monster flicks and just want a tense, engaging thriller, step into the Wayback Machine and check out Jaws. It’s by far the best and the scariest of the series, and the progenitor of the summer blockbuster and the modern monster movie.

Ghostbusters (1984)

Number one rule of marketing: Find out what people want, and find a way to provide it. Waterborne plague? Sell bottled water. Zombie apocalypse? Shotguns, food, and ammo. Outbreak of hauntings? Paranormal extermination services. It’s simple, really, especially considering the growing market that three New York parapsychologists are about to discover…

Ghostbusters is a comedy film produced and directed by Ivan Reitman, and written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis. It stars Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Bill Murray, Rick Moranis, Sugourney Weaver, Annie Potts, and Ernie Hudson.

When three quirky parapsychologists – Drs. Peter Venkman (Murray), Ray Stantz (Aykroyd), and Egon Spengler (Ramis) – lose their jobs at Columbia University, they decide to use their knowledge of the supernatural in a slightly different field: extermination. After their first attempt ends in hilarity, they develop equipment to help them capture and contain the ghosts, and set themselves up for business, advertising themselves as “the Ghostbusters”. Things appear to be set for failure until they finally get their first call from a posh hotel with a recurring haunting; after they capture this one (destroying most of the ballroom in the process), the calls start rolling in, with more and more people in New York City finding themselves vexed by wayward spirits. Business is so good, in fact, that they must fire a fourth member of their team, Winston Zeddemore (Hudson) to help distribute the workload (and to have someone to explain the supernatural stuff to), but before long the boys starts to wonder if their newfound success might not be a symptom of a building menace that has the potential to endanger the world…

Ghostbusters is one of those old favorites that I first saw while growing up, and it still holds up well today. The core cast are all close friends of Ivan Reitman, and in fact a similar combination (Reitman-Murray-Ramis) can be seen in Stripes. The actors worked well together, and you could tell that they enjoyed the hell out of whemselves while filming. In addition, I have been assured that Aykroyd is that big of a paranormal nerd in real life. Of course, the best part about this movie is that it works as a comedic scare film for both kids and adults – it isn’t that bloody, and the sexual stuff is more suggested than shown (at least, I wasn’t sure what that female ghost was doing with Ray until years later when I first heard of the succubus).

The special effects were well-done for their day, with the proton pack effects and ghostly apparitions still holding up well. The stop-motion terror dogs are a bit dated, but this is only a minor nit is what is otherwise a well-made and well-acted movie. The Godzilla-ish miniature effects used in the Stay-Puft sequence were well-crafted (though that suit must have been stuffy as hell), and I could actually believe that there was a fifty-foot snack mascot walking down the street, no matter how absurd it would look in any other context. The cast reacted well to the spooks and monsters, and nothing felt forced or half-assed.

If you like supernatural comedies, I strongly recommend adding this one to your collection. It’s an old favorite that has lasted for years, and will continue to last for years to come.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

One, two, Freddy’s coming for you…

When Wes Craven was growing up, a classmate of his with whom he shared a paper route frequently bullied him. His name was Fred Krueger.

Three, four, better lock your door…

Several newspaper articles printed in the L.A. Times told of a group of Cambodian refugees from the Hmong tribe who had died in their sleep.

Five, six, grab your crucifix…

In each case, the men would suffer terrifying nightmares, and then refuse to sleep for as long as possible. When they would finall succumb due to exhaustion, they would wake up screaming, and then fall dead.

Seven, eight, gonna stay up late…

It is still widely debated whether dying in a dream will kill you in real life.

Nine, ten, never sleep again…

A Nightmare on Elm Street is an American slasher film written and directed by Wes Craven and produced by Robert Shaye. It stars John Saxon, Heather Langenkamp, Ronee Blakley, Amanda Wyss, Nick Corri, Johnny Depp, and Robert Englund. It was distributed by New Line Cinema.

Tina Gray (Wyss) has a nightmare of being stalked through a shadowy boiler room by a mutilated man with razor-sharp blades for fingers. As he catches up to her, she wakes screaming, only to find four slashes in her nightgown, identical to those in her dream. The next day, she learns that her friend Nancy (Langenkamp) is dreaming about the same menacing figure, but Nancy is convinced that it’s nothing more than that – a dream. Tina is uneasy sleeping alone in the house after her nightmare, so she invites Nancy and her boyfriend Glen (Depp, in his first major role) to sleep over and keep her company. Tina’s boyfriend Rod (Corri) crashes the party, and they shag like horny teenagers in an 80’s horror movie. However, that night Tina’s nightmare finally catches her, and Rod is awakened to find her being attacked by something unseen in the real world. He is helpless to intervene as he watches her slashed again and again by invisible knives, dragged up the wall and across the ceiling by her spectral attacker. When she finally drops, dead, onto the bed, Rod flees, certain he will be blamed for her murder. And, you know, he is.

Nancy starts having recurring nightmares of the razor-gloved figure, and she decides to talk to Rod about what he saw in the bedroom on the night Tina was killed. While he didn’t see her attacker directly, he did notice that it was like she was being slashed with four knives at once, and he recalls that he has also been having nightmares of the razor-fingered man. After Nancy has another dream of the nightmare figure attacking Rod in his cell, Rod is found dead, hanged with his own bedsheets. The police think he committed suicide, but Nancy isn’t so sure. However, her mother is concerned that Nancy isn’t getting any sleep, and takes her to a sleep clinic. During a nightmare there, Nancy returns to reality with a souvenir: a battered fedora with the name Fred Krueger written in it. She learns that Krueger was a child murderer who avoided conviction on a technicality but was killed when a vigilante group of parents burned down his hideout with him in it. But now it appears he has returned to stalk the teenagers of Springfield through their dreams – but how can Nancy fight a nightmare?

A Nightmare on Elm Street is widely regarded as a classic slasher, with the sinister Freddy becoming one of the iconic figures of the genre. In his initial appearance here, he is genuinely sinister and threatening, rather than the master of black-humored one-liners he became later in the series. The dream world is his realm, to do with as he pleases, and if you don’t know how to fight him there (and even if you do), you’re pretty much screwed. The nightmares here are surreal and frightening, with typical being-chased-by-an-unknown-menace imagery interspered with weird shit like a sheep coming out of nowhere for the early cat scares. The special effects were well-done, considering the era and the budget, with the only obvious fake coming in the form of an obvious mannequin getting pulled through the window at the very end.

The acting was pretty good, considering what I’ve come to expect in slasher films, and to my surprise the 80s doesn’t burn quite as bad as it does in films from the second half of the decade. The performances are solid, and they don’t act quite like the brainless victims one might find in lesser imitators. And the adults, while useless, are at least logically so – they would prefer that this chapter of their lives stay behind them, and to be honest, if your teenager told you that somebody in a nightmare was trying to kill them, would you believe them? On the other hand, if they started talking about someone they had no logical reason to even know about, I might sit up and listen, but it appears that Nancy’s parents were divorced and her mom had turned to alcoholism to cope with the horrors of the past. Depp as Glen doesn’t play a huge role in the plot aside from emotional support for Nancy, but his death is pretty damn spectacular.

Nightmare is a nice look back into Wes Craven’s early work and the first incarnations of Freddy Krueger, before the executives warped him into a simple marketing tool for New Line Cinema. It pours on the paranoia fuel of a completely inescapable killer (after all, everyone has to sleep sometime) and pokes at our primal fears to tweak up in ways only a nightmare can. Slasher fans will enjoy this one.

Alien (1979)

“In space, no one can hear you scream.”

Thus the world was introduced to one of the most terrifying movie monsters ever, a nearly unstoppable killing machine designed to pour on the paranoia fuel in every possible way, including its nightmarish breeding cycle.  The Alien franchise would go on to span movies, books, video games, and eventually an official crossover with the Predator franchise to create one of the biggest franchise grudge matches this side of Freddy vs. Jason.

The original Alien was written by Dan O’Bannon (who would go on to direct Return of the Living Dead) and directed by Ridley Scott (who would follow his success with Blade Runner and Gladiator).  It starred Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Ian Holm, John Hurt, Veronica Cartwright, Yaphet Kotto, and Harry Dean Stanton as the crew of the commercial towing spaceship Nostromo whose return trip to Earth is sidetracked by an apparent distress signal from a derelict ship, where they find the pilot is long-dead, his ribcage apparently exploded from within, the rest of the crew is not in immediate evidence, and a lower hold is filled with leathery eggs.  When Kane (Hurt) investigates one of the eggs, it hatches, releasing a spiderlike organism that attaches itself to his face.

Over the objections of Ripley (Weaver), Ash (Holm) allows Kane and his passenger back on board the Nostromo, carried by his teammates Dallas (Skerritt) and Lambert (Cartwright).  In the infirmary, the crew unsuccessfully attempt to remove the parasite, discovering in the process that it has corrosive acid for blood.  Fortunately, it ultimately detaches on its own and is found dead, while Kane recovers apparently unharmed.  However, over dinner, the crew discovers that the true terror is just beginning, in a scene that has been referenced and homaged many times since, most notably when Hurt himself reprised his role for a cameo in Spaceballs.

Alien still holds up well today as a tense horror movie set in the “used future” that would be depicted in future sci fi films, and the Alien itself (designed by H. R. Giger, the master of biomechanical body horror and symbolic penises, and amazingly played by a 7’2 Nigerian design student named Bolaji Badejo in a suit) continues to terrify even today, with its overall design blending in perfectly with industrial surroundings, and its chilling, insectile efficiency letting you know right off the bat that it does not care about you.  If you are lucky, you are food.  If you are unlucky, you will be an incubator.

It is worth noting that the original script did not specify the genders of the seven leads, making Sigourney Weaver’s casting as Ripley less a matter of her being the Final Girl of a horror movie and more an inspired bit of serendipity that would lead to her pioneering the Action Girl archetype later in the franchise.  Indeed, the crew of the Nostromo are not action heroes – just government contractors who discover that EvilCorp Weyland-Yutani is quite willing to throw them to the wolves if it will get them the finest weapon they could ever hope to find.  The role of W-Y regarding the Xenomorphs continued to be explored in the Expanded Universe, showing savvy viewers that sometimes the worst monsters are completely human.

Overall, Alien is an excellent example of science fiction/horror subgenre.  The characters are sympathetic and believable, and the creature effects still hold up well and make us believe that this is a monster that would gladly eat your face as soon as look at you.  If you want an example of a hostile alien movie done right, look no further.