All-Time Favorite Trailers: ‘Austin Powers – The Spy Who Shagged Me’

It was December of 1998, and “Star Trek: Insurrection” just opened in movie theaters everywhere. At the time, I was a student at UC Irvine, and I had just wrapped up the last of my finals in the first quarter. To say that I was relieved was an understatement as I was minoring in English and made the mistake of taking three classes which left me with a boatload of reading and not nearly enough time to have a life outside of school. Once I was done, I didn’t even hesitate to celebrate, and I drove straight out to the Irvine Spectrum Center where “Star Trek: Insurrection” was playing.

But while the theater was filled with many people ready to boldly go with the crew of the starship Enterprise to where no one has gone before, the one thing foremost on our minds was if “Insurrection” would be preceded by the just released trailer for “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.” It had been almost 16 years since “Return of the Jedi” came out, and now that a new “Star Wars” movie was on the horizon, it felt to many like the second coming of Christ.

As the lights went down, I could feel everyone around me holding their breath in anticipation and praying that the first movie trailer shown would be for “The Phantom Menace.” Sure enough, once we got past “the following preview has been approved for ALL AUDIENCES by the Motion Picture Association of America” title card, we were thrust into outer space and shown what looked to be the wreckage of the last Death Star. As the camera zoomed in on the chair where Emperor Palpatine once sat, the audience got super excited and started to cheer as they were convinced the first look at the next “Star Wars” movie was about to be unveiled. Instead, the chair turned around to reveal Michael Myers as Dr. Evil who, while holding Mr. Bigglesworth, said, “You were expecting somebody else?”

It was a brilliant move on the part of Myers, director Jay Roach and New Line Cinema to promote “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” in this way as it played on what we know about “Star Wars” and exploited it to great effect. Once we realized what was actually being promoted, we all responded enthusiastically as Myers danced with abandon as the title character and sported those glasses and the inescapably large teeth he had. Yay baby indeed!

I also loved it when the trailer’s narrator said the following:

“If you see only one movie this summer, see ‘Star Wars.’”

You have to admire New Line Cinema for admitting this as even they had to admit there was no way this long-awaited sequel was going to beat “The Phantom Menace” at the box office. Instead, they presented it as an underdog to where it was kindly asking audiences to give it a look after they watched the latest “Star Wars” movie for a second time. Hollywood and the studios which inhabit it are always out to promise audiences how this movie is a must-see, and yet here this particular studio, which has since been absorbed by Warner Brothers, admitted this one was not going to use the force the same way Lucasfilm was going to, and it worked to the advantage of this “Austin Powers” adventure.

This is one of those movie trailers, let alone teaser trailers, which has stayed with me after so many years. I still remember the great feeling and humorous effect it had on me and the rest of the audience. As a result, it has long since earned its place on my list of the greatest movie trailers ever made.

We did eventually get to see the first “Phantom Menace” trailer before “Star Trek: Insurrection” began, but while the audience gave it a thunderous response, there was no forgetting the mark Mr. Powers left on us beforehand.

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William H. Macy Talks with Jason Reitman about ‘Boogie Nights’

Boogie Nights William H Macy photo

Jason Reitman proudly said he saw Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights” long before everyone in attendance at the New Beverly Cinema on February 21, 2010 had. This was the fourth movie he showed as part of his guest programming at the still standing Los Angeles revival movie theater. It was at a test screening shown at the Beverly Center where he first witnessed this movie which proved to be the breakthrough for Anderson whose previous cinematic effort was the acclaimed but little seen “Hard Eight.” With “Boogie Nights,” Reitman said he saw a filmmaker who knew how to handle all the elements while dealing with twenty characters.

Reitman’s special guest for this screening of “Boogie Nights” was William H. Macy who played Little Bill, the assistant director to Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) who is married to a porn star (played by Nina Hartley) who sleeps with everyone but him. In many ways, Little Bill is the most empathetic character in this movie even though we keep waiting for him to stand up for himself.

Boogie Nights poster

Reitman, who had previously worked with Macy on “Thank You for Smoking,” first asked him how he came upon the script for “Boogie Nights:”

“I got the script through the normal channels,” Macy said. “I think I was still with CAA then, and the script was even more outrageous. I said, ‘Is this a porn film?’ There was actual shtüpping in it! Then I met with Paul and, the actors in the room will love this, I decided I wanted to do it and met with him at the Formosa Café, and it was about ten minutes in when I realized he was selling me. I wasn’t there to audition for him, he was trying to convince me to do it, and it was one of the great moments of my career.”

Reitman replied to this by saying, “I remember having a similar meeting when I was trying to get you to do ‘Thank You for Smoking,’”

 From there, Reitman talked about all the great long shots Anderson has used in his movies. Specifically, he talked about the one where Little Bill was at the New Year’s Eve party and found his wife once again sleeping with another guy. It’s a long tracking shot which goes from Little Bill looking for his wife, finding her, and then going back to his car to get a gun after which he goes back inside and shoots his wife and the other guy dead. Watching it years after “Boogie Nights” was first released, it is still amazing Anderson pulled such a shot off. Macy described how this scene was put together.

“Paul does a couple of his gazunga shots in this one and they are not as hard as you would think,” Macy said. “It took forever to set up, but then after three and a half to four hours of setting it up, the shot’s done. No coverage, no nothing and you move on. Four pages just bit the dust.”

Macy then talked about how much he loved Nina Hartley. The first time he met her was when he went into the makeup room, and she had her legs up on the counter and was shaving herself. At the end of the shoot, Hartley had started this series entitled “Nina Hartley’s Guide to Swinging” as well as one on anal intercourse. Macy then added, “In the end, she gave these films as wrap gifts! It was great to see (the reactions); anal intercourse? THANK YOU NINA!”

There was a number of actual adult film actors involved in the making of “Boogie Nights.” One of the girls who had a small scene in the movie came to Macy’s attention while he was having lunch one day with Anderson. She came down and sat between the two of them and asked Paul a career question, “Should I go legit or should I go anal?”

Reitman went back to the long shot which ended when Little Bill puts the gun in his mouth and blows his brains out. What made this shot particularly dangerous was Macy had to wear a squib on the side of his head. With squibs, the crew doesn’t want you to move around at all for your own good, and Macy went into detail over why it was so dangerous.

“What was dangerous about it was they let me do it,” Macy said. “I found out since then that they no longer let actors use that kind of squib. It’s a little explosive device and it’s called a gore gun. So I had this little backpack with all this blood and brains that would come shooting out the back, and it was wired to the pistol so that when I fired the pistol, that’s what set off the ‘gore gun’ and that’s not allowed anymore. A stunt guy sets off the gore gun now, but there is a cut because we couldn’t figure out how to do the whole thing with a loaded gun and the gore pack. So there is a cut.”

The conversation then went to the tone of a movie and what a director actually does. It’s nowhere as simple as Burt Reynolds’ character of Jack Horner makes it look in “Boogie Nights.” Reitman took the time to explain what he thinks tone is.

“Tone is like this inexplicable thing that, if you ask what a director actually does, it’s not like setting up shots or telling actors what to do,” Reitman said. “Really, what a director does is set tone. It’s not about the words; it’s about the feeling that carries through the scenes, and P.T. A’s movies have a very specific tone to them.”

Reitman then asked Macy if this is something he feels on set or if it was something he didn’t realize until he saw the finished product. Macy said he wasn’t aware of how special “Boogie Nights” was until he saw the final cut, and he was understandably very impressed with it. This led him to talk about when he made “The Cooler” (the mention of it got a strong applause from the audience) which contains one of his very best performances.

“The director kept telling me, ‘Wait until you hear the score!’ To where I finally said, ‘Dude, if you think the music is going to save this then you’re in trouble!’ I was wrong, and when he put that lush score over the film it was a different sort of film, and he had that in his head the whole time,” Macy said.

Macy went on to say the tone of the set bleeds onto the film and the way you comport yourself, or how your first assistant director comports his or herself.

“To my mind, it’s always like going to war then making art,” Macy said. “You need a good general. I’ve been known to call in first time directors and I say to them, ‘If I catch you making art on my time, then we’re going to have trouble.’ You better know what you want because it’s more like going to war.”

One of the best moments of the evening came when Macy talked about the extras who were brought in when Anderson shot the scenes at the adult movie awards. They were all told to bring their best 70’s clothes and that they were working on a Burt Reynolds movie. Then there was that moment where actress Melora Waters is about to give an award to Mark Wahlberg, and it was worded a little differently than what we saw in the theatrical version.

“I’ve seen all his movies and I can’t wait to get his cock inside my pussy, MR. DIRK DIGGLER!”

Macy said the whole crowd just sat there in utter silence, completely unprepared for what they heard. It certainly wasn’t your average everyday Burt Reynolds movie.

All in all, it was another fun evening which provided an in depth look into one of the best movies of the 1990’s, and “Boogie Nights” made clear to the world Paul Thomas Anderson was a born filmmaker.

 

 

 

 

Why ‘Pump Up the Volume’ Remains My Favorite Teen Movie

Pump Up The Volume movie poster

Of all the movies I have seen about being a teenager, “Pump Up the Volume” is still far and away my favorite. It is also the one which hit me the hardest emotionally as, after seeing all these movies about nerds and jocks fighting each other on school grounds, this one had characters I could actually relate to. I grew up during the years of “Beverly Hills 90210” which infected us with a fantasy version of the high school experience where you could have your troubles as a teenager but would still come out of it with a smile, a cute boyfriend or girlfriend and some fancy, fancy clothes which made you look oh so incredibly cool. This movie does not exist in that fantasy world, thank goodness, and I would love to see Hollywood produce more movies like it.

Allow me to give you some background information about myself as it will inform how strongly I feel about this movie. My family had moved around quite a bit when I was a kid, but it actually didn’t bother me much until we moved from Southern California to Northern California. I lived in Thousand Oaks for five years, and at that point it was the longest I had ever lived in one place. For once I felt settled, and then my dad quit his job and got a new one up north in the Bay Area, and my whole life went into major upheaval as I had no choice but to move with my parents and away from a place which truly felt like home.

I had to start all over again making new friends, and even after all these years it still feels so unfair to have been put through this moving thing one time too many. I became very antisocial and withdrawn as I was so frustrated and depressed at this situation I was thrown into. For a while, it felt like I could not talk to anybody as I didn’t know what to say. In retrospect, the fact I got through adolescence in one piece seems like a miracle.

“Pump Up the Volume” features a character who went through something very similar. Christian Slater gives one of his all-time best performances as Mark Humphreys, a high school senior who has just moved with his family from New York to a suburb in Arizona which appears to be located in the middle of nowhere. He is a shy and withdrawn kid, clearly not happy about his situation. He can’t talk to anybody, not even to his parents who he feels completely alienated from. But by night he is Happy Hard On, a pirate radio DJ who operates an underground station in the basement of his parents’ new home. While Mark is very quiet in the classroom, he comes to life on the radio and rants about his new neighborhood and the world he is growing up in with complete abandon.

As time goes on, his radio program starts drawing in more and more listeners who relate to what he is going through. Chaos begins to reign at his high school and the adults work to control the situation, having no idea of what the kids are really going through. This scares Mark to the point where he wants to stop doing his show, but since this is one of his biggest outlets for the frustration and aggression he constantly feels, he can’t bring himself to stop. It’s through his venting that he suddenly becomes the voice everyone needs to hear, especially the kids.

“Pump Up the Volume” covers a lot of ground that other teenage movies don’t bother to, and it’s much more down to earth than others in the genre which, for myself, was a huge relief. I got so used to seeing movies about the classroom dork winning the girl of his dreams or beating out the jocks that made him believe he was so uncool. Watching movies like those when I was a teenager just made me feel more ostracized than I already did, so “Pump Up the Volume” was a godsend in how it had a main character I could actually relate to. Adolescents need movies like this to make them realize they are not the only ones going through rough times, and to make them see how being a teenager is not always what we expect it to be.

In one scene, Mark takes a call from a kid who admits he likes guys and ends up describing a truly humiliating situation he got trapped in. In another, he takes a call from a listener who has written him a letter saying he wants to kill himself, and when Harry asks him why, the listener says with tears coming out of his eyes, “I’m all alone.” But as Mark quickly admits, maybe it is okay to be alone sometimes, and that in the end we are all alone. It sucks, but there seems to be no real escaping this fact. Then again, I have no problem with anyone proving me wrong there. I can’t think of another teen movie before this one that dealt with such down-to-earth characters.

A lot of people have complained the adult characters are largely one-dimensional. While I can definitely see some validity in this argument, I also remember seeing these seem people at my high school. Believe me, these people do exist. Annie Ross plays Loretta Creswood, the principal of Hubert Humphrey High, and she is a true bitch in every sense. Loretta lives to see her students get the highest SAT scores in the state, and she has no time for troublemakers whom she sees as having no interest in education. I have friends of mine who are teachers, and they do not hesitate in telling me just how much they hate the principals they work with. The way they are described to me, they are just as bad as the one Ross plays in this movie.

Then you have Mark’s dad, Brian (played by Scott Paulin), who at first seems oblivious about how to deal with his son’s problems, but then he turns out to be the students’ savior when upon realizing they need to be heard, not talked down to. At the same time, Loretta doesn’t show the least bit of regret in expelling those students she feels are undeserving of an education. Paulin is terrific in making Brian seem like much more than the average parent, and he makes the character a heroic educator as we how much he values the fact everyone has the right to an education.

Another great performance comes from Samantha Mathis who plays Nora Diniro, a total rebel and a free spirit who never apologizes for who she is. Nora ends up befriending the terribly shy Mark, and she later comes to discover his secret identity. Nora eventually becomes Mark’s conscience as she makes him realize the powerful effect he has on the kids in the town and on her as well. When he wants to back out when things get too dangerous for him, she angrily reminds him he has a responsibility to the people who believe in him.

There’s a great scene where the two of them are outside in Mark’s backyard when he desperately wants to communicate to Nora, and she tries to make him as comfortable as possible. Nora even ends up taking off her sweater and stands in front of Mark with her breasts bared; forcing Mark to look into her eyes as they quickly make a connection not easily broken. Both Slater and Mathis have fantastic chemistry together, and Mathis creates the kind of free spirited character we all would have loved to have been like in high school.

“Pump Up the Volume” climaxes with the walls closing in on Mark as the adults try to figure out his real identity and shut him down for good. The fact he continues to be defiant even as the authorities get closer and closer to catching him was really inspiring to me. You want to see him, in the words of Jack Black from “School of Rock,” stick it to the man. Then Slater delivers this piece of dialogue which still stays with me:

“High school is the bottom. Being a teenager sucks, but that’s the point! Surviving it is the whole point! Quitting is not going to make you strong, living will. So just hang on and hang in there.”

“Pump Up the Volume” still resonates very deeply for me all these years later. It came out in the summer of 1990 which was, ironically the summer before I started high school. This movie became one of the things which kept me going through adolescence even when I got very, very depressed. Unfortunately, it was a box office flop on its initial release, but it has since gained a strong following on home video and DVD. It’s a following I hope will continue to grow, and maybe if we’re lucky, there will eventually be a special edition DVD and Blu-ray containing documentaries, trailers, audio commentaries and even music videos. Hey, Criterion Collection, are you listening?

“Pump Up the Volume” also contains one of my all-time favorite soundtracks. My only problem with it is it doesn’t have Leonard Cohen’s version of “Everybody Knows” which serves as the perfect song to open the movie with. Instead, we have the version by Concrete Blonde which comes on towards the end when Mark makes his last stand against the powers that be. I certainly don’t want to take away from their cover of the song as they did a great job on it, but Cohen’s version is perfect fit for Mark’s state of mind. It also would have been cool to get some of Cliff Martinez’s film score on the soundtrack as well as I really loved how it sounded. Still the soundtrack does have a lot terrific tracks from The Pixies, Soundgarden, Cowboy Junkies and Sonic Youth.

For me, “Pump Up the Volume” was a godsend. It gave me a character who was dealing with the same problems I dealt with when I was a teenager, and there were few, if any other, movies which contained individuals like him. Most teen movies back then just left me with a never-ending feeling of utter resentment as they featured kids who got to experience things I never did and felt robbed of. All the misfits, social rejects and those who felt dejected and rejected need and deserve a movie like “Pump Up the Volume.” After all these years, it remains very close to my heart, and I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone.

* * * * out of * * * *

Soundtrack Review: ‘Patriot Games’ Extended Edition

Patriot Games soundtrack

Patriot Games” was the second Tom Clancy novel adapted to the big screen after the huge critical and commercial success of “The Hunt for Red October.” But in the process of bringing Clancy’s heroic character Jack Ryan back for another adventure, many changes ended up taking place. John McTiernan stepped away from the director’s chair and Phillip Noyce came on board, Alec Baldwin was replaced by Harrison Ford, and Basil Poledouris stepped aside for James Horner who at the time was an A-list composer very much in demand.

La La Land Records has released a remastered and expanded soundtrack to “Patriot Games” which contains a lot of music never before released, source cues and the Clannad song “Harry’s Game.” The film has Jack Ryan stopping an IRA assassination attempt on the Royal Family, but this makes him the target of a renegade faction of terrorists, especially Sean Miller (Sean Bean) whose brother Ryan ended up killing. In scoring this action and suspense film, Horner creates a surprisingly understated score which features lovely Irish and Gaelic flavors, and he combines both electronic and orchestral music to highlight the movie’s action set pieces.

Now most action scores start off with a thunderous main title to get the audience all hyped up, but the main title for “Patriot Games” is surprisingly subtle and not the least bit bombastic. This turned out to be an excellent move on Horner’s part as this film proves to be a more personal one for Jack Ryan than “The Hunt for Red October.” Among my favorite tracks are “Attempt on the Royals” which underscores Ryan’s heroic save and the loss of Sean Miller’s brother, “The Hit” in which Jack rushes after his family to save them from the vengeful Sean, and “Assault on Ryan’s House” where IRA terrorists make their last effort to eliminate the brilliant CIA analyst. I’ve always been a sucker for adrenaline pumping film music, and Horner was one of the masters at composing it.

At the same time, I really liked the low-key music he comes up with like “Closing Credits” which is a piece of music great to fall asleep to. I kept thinking it was one of the singers from Clannad who did the backing vocals on this track, but it was actually Maggie Boyle whose voice is nothing short of heavenly. Horner is great at finding the humanity in the characters inhabiting an action movie, and his music can be both thrilling and highly emotional at the same time. Not many film composers can pull off such a feat.

Among the previously unreleased tracks, it was nice to see “Sean Obsessing in Jail” on this release as Horner gets at what is eating away at Sean whose obsession for avenging his brother’s death continues to grow and grow, and I also got a kick out of “Cooley Escapes” which follows a minor character in the film who suddenly discovers he is under police surveillance. As for the source cues, they include the “Washington Post March,” some traditional Irish music and some pieces composed by Mozart, I’m not sure how necessary they were to this edition of the “Patriot Games” soundtrack. At the same time, those additions prove just how serious La La Land Records is about giving fans the most complete soundtrack to a movie they could ever hope to have.

One interesting thing about this particular La La Land Records release is it doesn’t contain the original commercial release of the soundtrack. Other releases of theirs have had them on a second disc as a bonus for those who liked the original version. But in the end, I guess they decided not to include it because everything from the original release is on these two discs anyway. I do need to point out, however, there are two different versions of “Closing Credits” on this expanded version. One is listed as the film version, and the other is listed as the album version. The difference between the two is the film version is in English and the other one is not. Regardless of which version you find yourself liking more, it is great to have both of them here.

And like many La La Land Records releases, it does come with a booklet detailing the making of the soundtrack and the movie itself. The booklet is entitled “The Pluck of the Irish,” and was written by Jim Lochner who is the managing editor of FSM Online and the owner of the website FilmScoreClickTrack.com. Now I have reviewed several La La Land Records releases, but the booklet for “Patriot Games” is one of the best they have ever put together as Lochner covers just about every single detail about the movie more than ever before.

Among the memorable passages are why Neufeld didn’t bring McTiernan back for “Patriot Games,” how Baldwin reacted to not getting cast in the film, and how Clancy was constantly upset about the changes made in bringing his book to the big screen. In describing Horner’s score, Lochner writes it is a “subtle, understated score that percolates underneath the surface, conveying the tension of a family under siege and the terrorists’ patriotic Irish roots.” I think this is the perfect description for the music of “Patriot Games,” and Lochner, in writing about the other tracks, makes the case for why Horner should have received more attention for it when the movie came out in 1992.

Once again, La La Land Records has given film music fans another remastered and expanded soundtrack which is a must buy. In a career that has seen him create unforgettable film scores for “Titanic,” “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” and “Glory,” Horner’s score for “Patriot Games” stands out as one of his most unique. It is at times an understated and at other times a pulse pounding listen, and the Irish elements he puts in reminds us of what a masterful composer he was. Now it has the soundtrack edition it has long deserved.

Click here to purchase the soundtrack.

 

Soundtrack Review: ‘Grand Canyon’ Extended Edition

Grand Canyon soundtrack cover

Anybody who knows me best knows I am a huge fan of film scores and soundtracks, and James Newton Howard’s score to “Grand Canyon” is one of my all-time favorites. I knew at some point this score would get an expanded and remastered soundtrack, and La La Land Records finally came through with this limited-edition release. While he is better known for his music to “The Prince of Tides,” “The Fugitive,” “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” which he worked with Hans Zimmer on, “Grand Canyon” remains my favorite work of his as the music provides a soothing heartbeat to this movie.

The movie “Grand Canyon” came out in 1991 and was directed by Lawrence Kasdan and written by him and his wife Meg. Its story revolves around six different Los Angeles residents whose lives intertwine with one another over the course of a few days. It all starts when Mac (Kevin Kline), while driving home from a Lakers game, drives into a bad neighborhood where his car breaks down. Just when it looks like he’s about to be killed by a gang, tow truck driver Simon (Danny Glover) rescues him and the two end up becoming unlikely friends. Many called it “The Big Chill” of the 1990’s, but “Grand Canyon” more than stands on its own as it observes the lives of Los Angeles residents who are dealing with personal issues which are tearing them apart.

What I love about Howard’s score is how it combines so many different kinds of music, be it orchestra, electronics, rock, jazz or percussion, to create a film score so unique to where I have a hard time comparing it to any other. It captures the coldness of big city life while giving the characters stuck in it a sympathetic voice which understands how they feel. The “Main Titles” hooked me right away and made me feel so at ease even though I knew this movie was not going to be a fairy tale.

La La Land Records limited edition release of “Grand Canyon” includes twenty-five minutes of music not included on its original release. Soundtracks, back in the 1990’s, were limited to having only forty to fifty minutes of music on a compact disc, so a lot of great stuff got left out as a result. It’s been over twenty years since this movie came out, but the music remains as powerful as ever. In addition, there are some bonus tracks which are alternate takes on certain themes as well as some source music for a violent film which Davis (Steve Martin) has produced with an unrestrained glee.

As usual, La La Land Records has provided an informative booklet on the making of “Grand Canyon” and its music which is entitled “Scoring the City of Angels” written by Daniel Schweiger, soundtrack editor of AssignmentX.com and Filmmusicmag.com. Schweiger writes extensively about the making of the movie and of how Howard came up with the music for it, and I’m not sure we have had as much detailed information on the creation of this score previously. Each track on this disc gets an individual write up, and it’s nice to see someone, let alone anyone, give this soundtrack the attention it deserves.

If there’s any downside to this edition of the “Grand Canyon” soundtrack, it’s that it doesn’t include the song “Searching for a Heart” by the late Warren Zevon. Usually La La Land Records is able to get all the songs from a movie’s original soundtrack, but I guess there was an issue with the rights this time around. It would have also been great to have the other Zevon song featured in this movie, “Lawyers, Guns and Money,” included as well. Mac plays it while he’s driving home from the Lakers game, and the lyrics turn out to be quite prophetic for him.

“Grand Canyon” is truly one of the unsung cinematic masterpieces of the 1990’s, and what’s sad is most people don’t know about this movie today. This proved to be my introduction to the work of James Newton Howard, and it is one of the main reasons why this movie is so great. I am thrilled to see La La Land Records has taken the time to make Howard’s score sound better than ever before. While he didn’t get an Oscar nomination for his work here (he was instead nominated that same year for “The Prince of Tides”), there’s no doubt in my mind this remains his most memorable film score to date.

This limited edition has only 2000 units available, so be sure to order yours before it goes out of print.

The Ultimate Rabbit’s Top Ten Horror Movies for Halloween

Halloween head tilt

So, without further ado, I present to you my list of my top ten movies to watch on Halloween night, and they are presented here in no particular order:

halloween-1978-poster

“John Carpenter’s Halloween”

Despite the many imitators and endless sequels, not to mention the two movies directed by Rob Zombie (which was actually pretty good), there’s no beating the granddaddy of them all. Carpenter’s film is a true horror classic with a music theme I never get sick of listening to. All these years later, the original “Halloween” has lost none of its power to creep you out as it offers audiences a truly terrifying experience.

There are moments which have stayed with me long after I saw “Halloween” for the first time. That moment where Michael Meyers kills the boyfriend and then tilts his head from side to side always gets to me. Plus, the ending leaves you with the unnerving truth of how evil never dies.

 

The Thing movie poster

“John Carpenter’s The Thing”

While his original “Halloween” remains a true classic, Carpenter’s remake of “The Thing” is his masterpiece. The film bombed back in 1982, but it has since gained a huge cult following and is now considered one of the best horror films ever made. The story of a group of scientists doing research in Antarctica, one of the most isolated places on Earth, who get copied almost perfectly by an alien is far more effective today than when it first came out. “The Thing” is a great example of how to keep escalating tension throughout a movie’s entire running time, and Rob Bottin’s incredible work on the makeup and effects still looks disgustingly brilliant to this very day.

 

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre poster

“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”

I finally got to see this movie all the way through for the first time a couple of years ago when I rented it from Netflix. What I thought would be a fun and hopelessly dated 1970’s movie turned out to be more horrifying than I ever could have imagined. Even while watching it on my 32″ television, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” proved to be a brutal cinematic experience which has lost none of its power to make you shrink in your seat. With a movie like this, it’s not what you see that gets to you; it’s what you don’t see which messes with your head, and that makes this classic of the most unnerving movie going experiences you will ever endure.

 

Suspiria 4K restoration poster

“Suspiria”

It was released 40 years ago, and it remains Dario Argento’s true masterpiece of horror. There are very few directors who can make a grisly death look like a beautiful work of art. The tale of an American female dancer who comes to a ballet school which turns out to be a witches’ coven doesn’t always make sense, but then again, a lot of Argento’s movies don’t. The movie is still scary as hell and beautifully horrific in a way most horror films can only dream of being today. A friend of mine once told me that if she were ever to be murdered (heaven forbid), she wants it to look like something out of a Dario Argento movie. I see what she means.

 

Alien movie poster

“Alien”

Be it the original version or the director’s cut, Ridley Scott’s “Alien” is still an overwhelmingly terrifying experience to sit through. When I rented this one on videotape years ago and watched it on my parents’ 13-inch television set in their bedroom (they robbed me of using the family room), I found myself hiding my eyes at key moments. The silence really got to me, and I impatiently waited for Jerry Goldsmith’s score to come back on. Keep in mind, I actually saw James Cameron’s “Aliens” before I saw this one, and it still scared the hell out of me!

 

The Exorcist movie poster

“The Exorcist”

I tell you, these horror movies from the 1970’s still have the same power to shock you today as they did when first released. When William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist” was re-released in “the version you’ve never seen,” it still had a visceral power to unsettle us regardless of the passage of time. The story of a girl who becomes possessed by an ancient demon benefits greatly from a documentary feel which has that “you are there” feel, and it almost felt like I wasn’t watching a movie, but instead a real-life event which somehow all got caught on camera.

 

Evil Dead II poster

“Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn”

All the “Evil Dead” movies are great fun, but if you have to go with just one, then I recommend “Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn.” On a budget of $3 million dollars, maybe even less than that, director Sam Raimi gave us one of the most endlessly creative and hilarious horror movies you could ever hope to watch. After all this time, it remains as scary as is funny. Plus, you have Bruce “Groovy” Campbell in his most iconic role as Ash, the pussy whipped salesman from S-Mart who keeps getting chased by the demons he was dumb enough to awaken from their slumber. Campbell gives a fantastic performance even if he keeps telling us he’s not much of an actor. This is so far from the truth, but you do have to admire the sense of humor he has about himself, and you haven’t lived until you listen to one of his “Evil Dead” commentary tracks.

 

28 Days Later movie poster

“28 Days Later”

“Slumdog Millionaire” director Danny Boyle was said to have reinvigorated the zombie genre with this propulsive horror thriller where they are anything but slow. In this film, the zombies, or the infected as they are referred to are not the real enemy, we are. The virus the infected have been stricken with represents our inability to face the darkness inside of ourselves which sooner or later rises to the surface. There is no let up on the tension in this movie, and the thrills come fast and furious.

 

Dawn of the Dead original and remake posters

“Dawn of the Dead” (the original and the remake)

This one is a tie because both versions of this movie stand strongly on their own merits. George Romero’s brilliant sequel to his classic “Night of the Living Dead” is really a satire of the consumerist society we all live in. You know, the one which encourages us to buy all sorts of things which are said to make you happy, and yet all the money and objects you purchase end up making you feel empty inside. This is what Romero is saying with this film, and he does this while providing us with a great deal of blood, gore, beheadings, eviscerations, decapitations, and whatever else he could afford when he made “Dawn of the Dead.” All of you in the Fangoria crowd will be more than satisfied with this one, but you knew that already.

Zack Snyder, who later went on to direct “300,” “Watchmen” and “Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice” helmed this remake which turned out to be the best of its kind since “John Carpenter’s The Thing.” This one is more of a straight forward horror action film with a surprising amount of emphasis on character development. It also features Canada’s greatest import in the lead role, Sarah Polley. The remake of “Dawn of the Dead” turned out to be a visceral thrill ride, and it allowed us to invest in the characters in ways most horror movies typically avoid.

 

Silence of the Lambs poster

“The Silence of the Lambs”

The specter of Hannibal Lecter, as portrayed by Anthony Hopkins, never fails to unnerve me like he did when I first saw this movie on the big screen. Jonathan Demme’s Oscar winning classic remains one of the definitive serial killer films ever made. Hopkins’ performance is like a perverse love letter to HAL from Stanley Kubrick’s “2001” whose voice inspired his performance. We also get one of cinema’s greatest heroines with Clarice Starling, brilliantly played by Jodie Foster.

Have a happy Halloween everybody!

Paul Verhoeven and Company Revisit ‘Total Recall’ in Hollywood

Total Recall movie poster

On Friday, August 24, 2012, Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven dropped by the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood where American Cinematheque screened a 70mm print of his 1990 movie “Total Recall.” Joining Verhoeven for a Q&A after the movie was two of its screenwriters, Ronald Shusett and Gary Goldman. They discussed the rigors of making the movie, and of how the script eventually made its way out of development hell.

As we all know by now, “Total Recall” is loosely based on the Philip K. Dick short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.” Shusett said he and the late Dan O’Bannon, writer of “Dark Star” and “Alien,” bought the rights to the story back in 1974, and they completed their first draft in 1981. From there it was set to be made into a movie, but the project kept falling apart time and time again. Filmmakers like Bruce Beresford and David Cronenberg had worked on it for a long time but eventually pulled out due to creative differences or studios canceling the project because of its enormous budget.

“Everything kept falling through over and over again,” Shusett said. “Sets were built, but then the project kept getting canceled because it was too expensive. Back in 1990, this was considered to be the most expensive movie ever made. I wanted to keep all those sets that were built from being torn down, and I asked one studio executive how I could save them. He responded that I should change the movie’s name to ‘Partial Recall.’”

Verhoeven got involved in “Total Recall” because Arnold Schwarzenegger had picked him to direct after seeing “Robocop.” Schwarzenegger had actually been interested in doing the movie for a long time and had encouraged Carolco Pictures producer Mario Kassar to buy the rights to it from Dino De Laurentis whose film company had gone into bankruptcy. The movie had already gone through many drafts, and it took one specific scene to pique Verhoeven’s interest:

“I came to the scene where Dr. Edgemar (played by Roy Brocksmith) visits Arnold’s character on Mars and tells him that he’s not really here,” Verhoeven said. “In that moment you are not sure if what you’re seeing is real or a dream, and that got me really excited because none of the movies I had made in Europe ever had a scene like that. What Edgemar tells Arnold is that what he is experiencing is not true, so we had to prove it wasn’t true again.”

Working with Carolco Pictures on “Total Recall” was “paradise,” Verhoeven said, as they never forced anything on the filmmaker other than actors they hand-picked to star in their movies. He also said the beauty of Carolco is that they never subjected him or the movie to test screenings. Verhoeven went on to make “Basic Instinct” and “Showgirls” for Carolco, and then the gigantic flop that was “Cutthroat Island” ended up forcing the company into bankruptcy.

Schwarzenegger was set to be the star of “Total Recall” no matter who directed it, and Verhoeven said he was perfectly fine with that. Changes in the story had to be made though as his character was originally an accountant. Verhoeven and the screenwriters ended up changing his profession to that of a construction worker as they all agreed you could not go around Arnold.

Verhoeven also pointed out how having Schwarzenegger in “Total Recall” made the movie “very light” which was great because, as put it, “the straight way of telling the story would not have worked.” This has been further proved by Len Wiseman’s remake of the movie which even Verhoeven admitted “wasn’t good.”

The main problem with adapting any Philip K. Dick story to the silver screen is that they are basically told in two acts, and finding a third act proved to be very difficult.

“I got really scared because there had already been forty drafts written, and we could never seem to figure the third act out,” Verhoeven said. “It eventually came down to Hauser (Schwarzenegger’s secret agent character) always being the bad guy as it gave us somewhere to go.”

One audience member asked Verhoeven how Sharon Stone got cast in “Total Recall:”

“Sharon came in the first day of casting, and after a half hour I was convinced she would be perfect as Lori,” Verhoeven said. “Once we were filming the movie, however, I came to realize what she could do as an actress. After one fight scene where she almost kills Rachel Ticotin’s character and Arnold aims a gun right at her, she quickly changes moods in what seemed like a heartbeat. It was Sharon’s final scene before her character was shot that made me want to choose her for ‘Basic Instinct.’”

Goldman told the audience movies like “The Matrix” and “Inception” wouldn’t have happened without Verhoeven’s pushing the idea of the dream in “Total Recall.” The audience applauded this sentiment loudly, and the movie still holds up well more than twenty years after its release. It’s a shame the producers of the recent remake failed to realize what made the original so good as one of them described Verhoeven’s movie as being “kitsch.” That producer is now eating their own words in the wake of the remake’s critical and commercial disappointment.

James Gunn Looks Back at the Making of ‘Tromeo & Juliet’

James Gunn photo

The screening of “Tromeo and Juliet” at New Beverly Cinema brought many people to the theater who were involved in its making. Among them were the movie’s director and co-founder of Troma Entertainment Lloyd Kaufman, actor Will Keenan who played Tromeo, and actors Sean Gunn and Stephen Blackheart among others. But the real star of the evening was filmmaker James Gunn who entertained the devoted audience with many anecdotes about “Tromeo and Juliet’s” making. Best known these days for his films “Slither,” “Super,” for writing the script to the “Dawn of the Dead” remake and most especially for “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Tromeo and Juliet” was one of his first jobs in the movie business.

Tromeo and Juliet movie poster

“Tromeo and Juliet” is, of course, loosely inspired by William Shakespeare’s classic “Romeo and Juliet,” and Kaufman said he and Troma Entertainment had tried to write the script for three or four years and could not get it right. It was his sister’s best friend who sent Gunn’s resume to Kaufman’s attention, and at that point Gunn had already graduated from Columbia University with an MFA in Writing Fiction. Kaufman, however, noticed something different about him.

“What caught my attention was he vomited onstage, that he was a performance actor who vomited onstage,” Kaufman said about Gunn. “I didn’t know whether he vomited because he was nervous or because it felt it was entertaining or because perhaps he had studied all the work of Terence Malick. But whatever it was, it was sort of like that moment in ‘The Producers’ when Zero Mostel sees his Hitler and says ‘you’re my Hitler!’ James Gunn was ours.”

Gunn said he didn’t actually vomit onstage and that Kaufman may have read someone else’s resume, but it didn’t matter because he got the job.

Keenan said he had not seen “Tromeo and Juliet” in fifteen years before this night and he joked that it looked twenty years old when it first came out. But for Gunn, this was part of the movie’s design.

“When we were doing the movie, I remember that I wanted it to look really dated,” Gunn said. “I used to love ‘Valley Girl’ and I loved looking back at it because it looked so 80’s. And I wanted to make this one look as 90’s as possible (it came out in 1997).”

Gunn recalled writing the first draft for “Tromeo and Juliet” in about a week and a half, and he gave it to Kaufman and assumed he was going to love it. Kaufman, however, found Gunn’s script to be “too filthy,” and this is saying a lot because Troma Entertainment movies usually revel in being filthy. Kaufman said there were about “8 scenes of urination” in the script, and Juliet was originally written to make her first appearance in a porno booth which is where the initial conversations between her and Tromeo would have taken place. Kaufman complained “Shakespeare didn’t have that in mind” when he wrote “Romeo and Juliet.”

There was also a bit said about Jane Jensen who played Juliet. She was not able to attend this screening, but Gunn talked of how he joked around with her throughout shooting. One scene from “Tromeo & Juliet” has her character’s stomach opening up to reveal popcorn and then rats and maggots. Jensen apparently had a near nervous breakdown shooting it as she had a major phobia of the maggots and was screaming her head off as the cameras rolled. Gunn recalls exactly what was going through his head at that moment.

“Wow! Jane’s acting is really good in this scene,” Gunn said. “And then all of a sudden I go ‘holy shit! I think that maybe this is real!’ And then I had that evil filmmaker moment where you go ‘do I keep filming?’”

Gunn ended up reminiscing about a review of “Tromeo and Juliet” he read in Film Threat Magazine, and he felt it captured the movie perfectly.

“They said, ‘I don’t know how to review this film because you can’t win,’” Gunn reminisced. “’If you say that there’s something stupid in here, they (the filmmakers) are going to say yeah, we meant to do that. And if you say there’s something great in here, they’re going to say yeah, we meant to do that.’ And that’s totally true! That is what it is!”

For those of us who have seen “Tromeo and Juliet,” we have to agree the review is really dead on. The movie wallows in bad taste and never apologizes for it, and it becomes all the more entertaining as a result. It was great to see James Gunn at New Beverly Cinema talking about this cult classic because his enthusiasm for this project was contagious. It’s this same enthusiasm which carried over to the movies he worked on from there, and not just “Guardians of the Galaxy.”