Soundtrack Review: ‘Assault on Precinct 13/Dark Star’

Assault on Precinct 13 Dark Star soundtrack cover

Of all the soundtracks to John Carpenter’s movies, the ones for “Assault on Precinct 13” and “Dark Star” remain the hardest to find. “Dark Star’s” soundtrack has been out of print for years and is basically comprised of dialogue and music from the movie. As for “Assault on Precinct 13,” its soundtrack was available only as a bootleg until 2003 when a French company named Record Makers gave it its first commercial release. But now BSX Records has released “Assault on Precinct 13/Dark Star,” a soundtrack which contains the music from both movies and has been newly recorded by Alan Howarth, and the results are truly fantastic.

“Assault on Precinct 13” and “Dark Star” were Carpenter’s first movies which he directed and did film music for, and they were extremely low budget affairs which forced him to make the best use of whatever he had available. The soundtracks for each ended up inaugurating what is known as “the Carpenter sound” which was expanded on in later films such as “Halloween II” and “Prince of Darkness.” The theme to “Assault on Precinct 13” is one of Carpenter’s most memorable, and it was inspired in part by Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” His music for “Dark Star” helped to illustrate the movie’s more thoughtful elements as well as its most comically absurd.

Other artists have re-recorded Carpenter’s music over the years with varying degrees of success, but BSX Records really lucked out here in getting Howarth to recreate these two soundtracks. A highly regarded sound designer and pioneering electronic musician, Howarth worked with Carpenter on the scores to many of his movies all the way up to 1988’s “They Live.” With “Assault on Precinct 13” and “Dark Star,” Howarth doesn’t try to update either soundtrack, but instead aims to remain faithful to Carpenter’s original versions and how they sounded back in the 1970’s. The only real difference is while both soundtracks were originally recorded in mono, Howarth gets the opportunity to record them in stereo which allows for a more powerful presentation.

“Assault on Precinct 13” ends up sounding better than ever here, and the main theme will give your stereo speakers a really strong workout. Track 16 is my favorite on the disc as Howarth takes the movie’s theme and adds orchestral elements on top of the electronic ones. It’s the closest he comes to updating any of Carpenter’s soundtracks, but the theme still stays very close to its original sound.

As for “Dark Star,” Howarth sounds like he’s having a blast recreating all those primitive computerized sounds which dominated the score for the 1974 movie. He even recreates “Doolittle’s Solo” which had the character of the same name performing on a makeshift instrument made up of bottles and tin cans, and he adds in those crazy sounds which emanate from that beach ball of an alien. In addition, composer Dominik Hauser arranges and performs a new version of the song “Benson, Arizona.”

This CD also comes with a highly informative booklet entitled “Assault on a Dark Star: The Musical Pulse of Early John Carpenter” written by Randall D. Larson, a film music columnist and author of the book “Musical Fantastique: 100 Years of Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Horror Film Music.” Larson goes into excellent detail over the challenges Carpenter faced in making both “Assault on Precinct 13” and “Dark Star,” and of how he went about created the music for each. Larson also talks in depth with Howarth on how he went about re-recording the scores for this release and the types of equipment he had to work with.

When it comes to re-creating a well-known soundtrack, composers and musicians usually find themselves at a loss. Whether they do a good job or not, they end up giving us something which makes us pine for the original version. The great thing about BSX Records’ “Assault on Precinct 13/Dark Star” release is how Alan Howarth makes both film scores sound as they were always meant to sound. Listening to them is like traveling back in time to the 1970’s when these two movies came out, and it makes for one of the best soundtrack re-recordings I have heard in a long time.

Click here to purchase a CD copy of the soundtracks.

Click here to purchase the digital copy of the soundtracks.

 

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The Pablove Runners Return to Griffith Park

Pablove 2019 Week Three 1

The air has cleared up to a certain extent, in Southern California anyway, so we Pablove runners were reunited on a misty Saturday morning for our latest run. Full marathoners were tasked with running six miles while those running a half-marathon only had to pound the pavement for three. After a week which saw Californians all over battling out of control fires which laid waste to far too many homes, doing any kind of exercise was a great way to deal with the anxiety brought on by catastrophes of all kinds which have become far too common in the United States of America.

It’s only marathon training which cab get me up out of bed so ridiculously early on a Saturday morning. Usually it takes me forever to haul my ass out of bed, but I woke up a good half hour before my six o’clock alarm was set to go off. I had a cookies and cream Promax bar which tasted a little weird when compared to the usual chocolate chip cookie dough bar I buy from the supermarket. I covered the important parts of my body with petroleum jelly as I had run out of anti-chafe cream, and I sprayed more Neutrogena sunblock over my body than I needed to as the sun was obscured by fog among other things.

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As I drove to Griffith Park, I played the new 40th anniversary edition of The Beatles’ “White Album” which features a new sound mix by Giles Martin, son of the late George Martin. Playing this new mix on my car stereo is aural perfection as Giles makes it sound like I am right in the middle of the studio with John, Paul, George and Ringo as they play their hearts out from one song to the next. I put on the second disc which features one of my all-time favorite Beatles songs, “Birthday.” I first heard this song when it was performed by The Rock-a-Fire-Explosion Band back at Showbiz Pizza Place in Marietta, Georgia years ago, and it took a long time for me to realize it was originally a Beatles song.

In retrospect, I should have played the first disc of the “White Album” as songs like “Back in the U.S.S.R.” and “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” would have pumped me up a bit more. Actually, I should have played John Carpenter’s score to “The Fog.” Every time I see fog or heavy mist surrounding the towns I happen to be in, the main theme from that movie immediately starts playing in my head.

Coach Joaquin’s main message to us this morning was to remain consistent in our training. Each week, we need to run a number of miles to increase our endurance for the big day. It gets to where two maintenance runs of 30 to 45 minutes each may not be enough, and Joaquin encouraged us to keep in shape and workout in any way we can. One of my fellow runners admitted she was unable to get any maintenance runs in this past week as she was tremendously busy with work. That’s the problem, life keeps getting in the way of everything we want and need to do.

Pablove 2019 Week Three 2

This run was confined to Griffith Park, and I decided to run at a 2:2 pace as I had the previous Saturday. My goal was to keep my fellow runners in my sights, and I actually managed to do this for a time. The start of this run had us running up the backside of Griffith Park, and this hill is one which constantly knocks the wind out of even the most experienced of runners. Coach Joaquin encouraged us to shuffle up the hill as running up it would be counterproductive among other things. As I attempted to ascend this hill, I kept thinking of the song “Harlem Shuffle” which was used to great effect in Edgar Wright’s movie “Baby Driver,” and it kept me from over exerting myself.

When I reached the one-mile sign, I could not help but feel astonished. I had only run just one? It felt like I just ran two, and now I had to turn around and run several more. Regardless, I watched my speed as I ran downhill. If I were on a bike, I would revel in my ability to decrease the altitude I was at, but as a runner I have long since known that increasing my velocity would also increase the odds of me injuring myself. Yes, there is a brain in this very large head of mine.

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As the Pablove runners began heading in the other direction, the two in front of me decided to cut their run short, and once again I was all by myself. I managed to keep up with the 2:2 pace for the most part, determined not to keep my coaches waiting too long for me to return. As I approached the turn around point, I met up with the other Pablove runners who kept encouraging me to keep it up, and I was convinced I would switch directions in no time.

Now this is an especially tricky situation in regards to running, the thought it will soon be over. When this happens, time suddenly becomes much slower to where you wonder if someone moved the turn around sign or if your friends will prank you by moving the finish line away as you rapidly approach it. A certain panic runs over me as I begin to think I have run too far, and situations like these have me almost flagellating myself. Stupid, stupid, stupid!

Fortunately, I did run into Coach Joaquin at one point who ran with me to the turn around point which was marked by an old Team to End AIDS sign. We ran together for a bit, and then he went on ahead to pick up any signs left over. Once again, I was the last runner to finish, but hopefully I can speed things up before the big day in March.

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Why do I keep coming back to train for this marathon? Well, I guess there’s always the chance of improving my performance, the need to lose this spare tire I keep carrying around on my stomach, and when those endorphins kick in, I feel a lot better about myself than I usually do. Still, life gets in the way and there’s only so much exercise I can get in during the week. This time, I need to exercise more regularly. I have long missed the days when I was a svelte individual. Here’s hoping I can experience them again very soon.

WRITER’S NOTE: I m running this marathon in support of The Pablove Foundation which continues to fight for a cure to pediatric cancer. I am determined to raise $1,500, and any support you can give me will be greatly appreciated. Please click here to make a donation (tax-deductible of course).

 

Los Angeles Marathon Number 9, Number 9, Number 9, Number 9…

Pablove 2019 Week One 1

“Number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9…”

-from “Revolution 9” by The Beatles

This is what should have been playing on my alarm clock this morning.

It’s that time of year again. Another Halloween has come and gone, and you know what that means. The weather in Southern California finally begins to get colder and summer has finally overstayed its welcome. Granted, as I write this, it’s now mid-afternoon and a balmy 80 degrees outside, but I still prefer to wear jeans instead of shorts regardles. And yes, daylight savings time is about to end, but while I look forward to the extra hour of sleep, seeing the evenings look like midnight when it is only 5 or 6 pm has never sat well with me. I’m sick of the day feeling over before it actually is over.

But most importantly, it is now time to start training again for the Los Angeles Marathon. Just when I thought the time had come to take a break, the pull of running 26.2 miles through the streets of an ethnically diverse city where complete strangers cheer you on remains very strong even as my knees doth protest. Once again, I will wake up at an ungodly hour on Saturday mornings to run through Griffith Park, Burbank and other parts of North Hollywood for the next several weeks to increase my endurance for a run many of my friends have convinced themselves they could never do. If I had a nickel for every time someone I knew told me, “I can’t even run a mile,” I’d own a Volkswagen Passat… Wait a minute, I do own a Volkswagen Passat…

And once again, I will be raising money for The Pablove Foundation which continues its mission to find a cure for pediatric cancer.

As usual, I waited until the last second to sign up. To be honest, today is the first day I have been running since the 2018 LA Marathon, and seven or eight months ago. I meant to start training several weeks beforehand, but I got waylaid by the common cold which made it harder than usual for me to get out of bed, and it is usually very hard to haul my ass out of bed on a regular basis. It proved to be especially frustrating because I never get sick, ever. Seriously, ask anybody. Damn post nasal drip!

Anyway, I jumped out of bed, got all my running gear together, spread an obscene amount of anti-chafe cream all over my body, put on lots of sunscreen (Neutrogena sunscreen is the best), consumed a Promax chocolate cookie dough protein bar, drank the last of the grape flavored generic Pedialyte beverage I left in the fridge, and I opened up a can of Celsius to give me a boost of energy. From there, I exited my apartment building with an enthusiasm I usually lack on a daily basis and jumped into my car and drove out to Griffith Park to start another year of marathon training, and the second in support of The Pablove Foundation which continues its brave fight against pediatric cancer.

While I made my way into Burbank, I listened to the soundtrack for the new “Halloween” movie composed by John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies. Now listening to the film score to a movie about a psychotic killer coming back to a small town to kill unsuspecting residents while going off to start training for a marathon may seem a little strange, but hey, whatever works…

It was a relatively cold morning in Griffith Park when I arrived, and Coach Kerry was already on the scene addressing the troops. Like last year, the turnout of runners proved to be small yet intimate, and it was great to see familiar faces like Esther and Glendale who were all smiles. I also got to say hi to Jasmine who I ran the 2018 LA Marathon with and who managed to complete it despite suffering from the flu. In a Facebook post, I told everyone I was coming back, but that my first run would probably be terrible as I haven’t been running much recently. Jasmine replied, “I’m with you Ben, I’m going to be slower than tectonic plate shifts.” Of course, out here in California, tectonic plate shifts could be even slower than they already are.

Pablove 2019 Week One 2

Coaching us this season is Joaquin, a Team to End AIDS veteran who may speak softly, but he is dedicated to get us across the finish line next March and feeling happy about it. After doing a few warm up exercises, us Pablove runners started off and headed towards the Gene Autry Museum. Those running a half marathon only had to run two miles, but us full marathoners ran four instead. Maybe I should be doing just the half at this point in my life, but I am always overly ambitious when it comes to running.

Pablove 2019 Week One 3

Truth be told, I did much better than I thought I would. I started off at an easy pace and kept myself at 3:1 (running three minutes, and then walking for one minute). I managed to keep my fellow Pablove runners in my sights for the most part, and it gave me the illusion I was better prepared than I expected.

I got to the turn around point, and yes, that darn Bonnie Tyler song started playing in my head. I managed to shut its depressing melody down in my mind as I made my way back to the starting point. As I made my way back, I started to get a bit winded to where my walking breaks could not come soon enough. Still, despite my weight making me slower than usual, I still hauled my ass all the way over to the finish line. Even better, many of my fellow Pablove runners were still around to cheer my return. Last season, they were all gone by the time I made it back, and the only ones left were the coaches who must have been wondering if I would ever show up.

I came into this run thinking it is just four miles, and this time it really was just four miles. Short runs can be deceiving for a marathon veteran as what seems like a piece of cake can be anything but. Now the first run is done, and I have to make a commitment to train even harder than ever before. It’s not just going to come down to two 30 to 45-minute maintenance runs a week. It also has to include cardio exercises each day whether its at the local gym or working out with my Nintendo Wii Fit or Wii Sports boxing. Hey, don’t laugh at the latter. I know a guy who lost 60 pounds working out to Wii Sports boxing on a regular basis.

So, here’s to another season of marathon training come rain or come shine, and here’s to me taking on the LA Marathon for the ninth year in a row. Lou Bega has “Mambo No. 5,” and I have marathon number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9…

Once again, I will be running this marathon in support of The Pablove Foundation and am aiming to raise $1,500 for the organization. Please click here to learn how you can make a tax-deductible donation.

The following song I dedicate to my fellow Pablove runners as it contains a message they will hopefully understand.

Photos courtesy of Kerry Quakenbush.

‘Someone’s Watching Me!’ – The Lost John Carpenter Movie

 

Someones Watching Me Blu ray cover

Someone’s Watching Me!” is often referred to as the lost John Carpenter movie due to its unavailability on video and DVD for many years. It finally got released on DVD in 2007 (Shout Factory later released it on Blu-ray), but while there are some Carpenter movies I still need to catch up on, this may be the only one I haven’t heard of previously. I ended up buying it from a video store which was closing down as I am a huge fan of the director’s work, and I have no excuse for being this far behind on the films he has made.

The movie stars Lauren Hutton as Leigh Michaels, a television director who has just moved to Los Angeles and has set herself up in a luxurious apartment in a high-rise building. But as soon as she starts unpacking her things, a stranger begins stalking her with his telescope and calls to leave threatening messages with that deep, ominous voice stalkers usually speak in. Things continue to get worse from there until she finally decides to take matters into her hands.

Carpenter wrote “Someone’s Watching Me!” back when he was primarily making a living writing screenplays. At that point he had only directed “Dark Star” and “Assault on Precinct 13,” and this movie was completed a few days before he began work on “Halloween.” You can see a lot of “Halloween” in this one as Carpenter gets some great shots of what’s going on behind a character, and the point of view shots really increase the tension as he puts you into Hutton’s shoes to where you feel as menaced as she is. It also shows how brilliant he was in not only creating suspense and tension, but in maintaining them all the way to the end.

This script also shows one of Carpenter’s strengths as a writer as he creates strong female characters which would inhabit all his movies. Hutton is very good as Michaels and I thought she made the character very believable in a way which wasn’t showy. As her anxiety gets increasingly worse, she stands her ground and refuses to move out of her apartment. Michaels is not about to be intimidated by this peeping tom, and you root for her to turn the tables on this guy at any given opportunity.

“Someone’s Watching Me!” also stars Adrienne Barbeau who would later become Carpenter’s wife for a time (this was the first project they worked on together) and starred in “The Fog.” She plays Michaels’ co-worker, Sophie, who is tough as nails and not easily intimidated by anyone around her. Barbeau gives Hutton great support throughout, and it’s great fun watching her steal one scene after another.

The movie also stars David Birney as Paul Winkless, the man Michaels ends up flirting with and falling for. It’s almost surprising Michaels would fall for anyone as she proudly asserts herself as an independent woman right from the start. Birney matches Hutton’s strength and wit throughout, and Carpenter’s direction successfully casts doubt on him as well as everyone else surrounding Michaels throughout.

Charles Cyphers, a member of Carpenter’s repertory company of actors, appears here as police detective Gary Hunt. It threatens to be a thankless part as the character seems brought in just to express disbelief in the protagonist’s fears, but watching Cyphers here makes you see why Carpenter loves working with him. Cyphers gives us a character who might be a cliché, but he imbues him with a worldliness which makes his actions and beliefs understandable. Some actors would just consider this a paycheck role they could just walk through, but Cyphers proves to be the kind of actor who doesn’t fall into such inexcusable laziness.

Carpenter gets to pull off a lot of shots which have long since cemented him a master of horror and suspense. He utilizes different camera moves like shooting handheld or panning back and forth to reveal something just around the corner. The fact this made for TV movie holds up today says a lot about his talent.

Granted, this movie was made back in 1978 when voyeurism seemed like a rarity at best. These days everyone’s a voyeur as technology allow us to peak into those dark corners which we assumed were inaccessible. To discover someone is watching you from afar and that your privacy is a thing of the past is not a hard scenario to believe in this day and age. This ends up making a movie like “Someone’s Watching Me!” scarier than ever before. Even with the constraints of a made for television movie, Carpenter creates a thrilling tale which holds you in its tense grip and never lets you go.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

John Carpenter’s ‘The Fog’ Covers the Coastal Towns Again in a Beautiful 4K Restoration

 

The Fog 4K Restoration posterThe Fog” remains one of my favorite John Carpenter movies. Every time a fog bank appears in whatever town I happen to be in, I immediately put on his score to the film and start playing its theme song. Like Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” “The Fog” is, for me, one of the most iconic Northern California horror movies ever made as it captures the beauty of coast near Bodega Bay and beyond while enthralling you with a number of terrifying images.

Rialto Pictures has now released a 4K restoration of “The Fog,” and seeing it again on the big screen proves to be a real treat. Granted, this Carpenter movie has been restored previously for the special edition MGM DVD and Shout Factory’s Blu-ray collector’s edition, and the results were truly astonishing. But just when I thought the image couldn’t be improved upon any further, along comes this restoration which looks truly pristine and clear to where the image, if you’ll excuse the expression, isn’t as foggy as it once was.

“The Fog” takes place in the coastal town of Antonio Bay which is about to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its formation, but we soon discover it was actually built on blood and theft. Father Malone (the great Hal Holbrook) discovers a diary hidden in the walls of his church written by his grandfather, and it tells of how he and five of the town’s founders deliberately plundered and sunk a clipper ship named the Elizabeth Dane. The owner of the ship was Blake, a wealthy man looking to establish a leper colony, but he and his crew ended up being murdered, and the gold found on their ship was used to build the town and its church.

Now Blake and his crew are back to get their revenge against the offspring of the town’s founders and retrieve their gold. Once you are surrounded by the fog to where Blake and his crew have you in their sights, it is too late to escape. There is a Klingon proverb which tells of how revenge is a dish best served cold, and it is served here very coldly to where we are quickly reminded of the movie’s tagline:

“It won’t hurt you. IT’LL KILL YOU.”

Watching “The Fog” for the umpteenth time, I am reminded of what a brilliant cinematographer Dean Cundey is as his lighting helps to make the movie’s central nemesis all the more mysterious and devilishly suffocating. The dark of the night is made to look especially chilling as things constantly leap out of it, and Blake and his crew are largely kept in the shadows as neither Cundey or Carpenter want to reveal too much of the monster to the audience.

This was Carpenter’s and the late Debra Hill’s first movie after “Halloween,” and I can understand why audiences felt a little let down by “The Fog” when it arrived in theaters. The anticipation for something usually ends up being more exciting than the finished product as our minds are filled with the possibilities of what we think will end up on the silver screen, but not everything comes out the way we want it to. It’s an unfair obstacle that filmmakers often have to deal with when following up such a successful motion picture, and sometimes we need to revisit certain movies like these years later to give them a much-needed reassessment.

More than 30 years have passed since Carpenter’s “The Fog” was released, and I like to think it has gotten better over time. In terms of atmospheric horror movies, I see it as one of the best. Those low-flying clouds are always a fascinating sight as well as a scary one. When the visibility is practically zero, you cannot help but feel trapped in the fog as it makes you believe the world has cut you off. Carpenter captures this feeling here as the fog proves to be thick and infinitely suffocating. There’s no escaping it or what is inside of it as those not smart enough to run away from it are almost deserving of the fate about to greet them.

Carpenter assembled a terrific cast of actors for “The Fog,” many of whom became regulars in his later movies. John Houseman gets things off to a chilling start as he recounts the story of the Elizabeth Dane in a way which feels vivid and probably helped the producers save money to where an actual recreation of the event he talks about proved completely unnecessary. Houseman was a brilliant actor who somehow managed to walk the line of doing work for either the love of the theatre or instead a nice paycheck, and I like to believe he did “The Fog” for the former. Still, I am often reminded of what the late Robin Williams said about the advice Houseman gave him while he was a student at Julliard:

“The theatre needs you. I’m going off to sell Volvos.”

Tom Atkins co-stars as town resident Nick Castle (lol) who is quick to pick up hitchhiker Elizabeth Solley (Jamie Lee Curtis) and later have sex with her before asking the question often heard in movies of the late 70’s and early 80’s, “What’s your name?” Atkins showed what a confident lady’s man he was here, and he later built on this confidence to terrific and hilarious effect in “Halloween III: Season of the Witch.”

“The Fog” also marked the film debut of Adrienne Barbeau, and the camera loves her here. As single mom and local radio disc jockey Stevie Wayne, Barbeau gives this Carpenter movie the strong female character it needs and deserves. Stevie is not a person to back down from danger and, like Laurie Strode, she is very observant of everything going on around her. When Barbeau’s voice is giving you more than enough of a reason to listen to jazz music on a regular basis, she keeps you on the edge of your seat as she fends off the bloodthirsty mariners hiding in the fog in ways her male counterparts fail to.

And, of course, I have to mention Carpenter’s score as I remain as big a fan of his music as I do of his movies. His main theme for “The Fog” is one of his most memorable as it has the same rapid pace of his “Halloween” theme. The musical stings pack a wallop in certain scenes where ghostly hands reach out of the fog to grab at unsuspecting victims who think this is the work of kids, and his other big theme in “The Fog” is “Reel 9” which brings the movie to its riveting climax in which the mariners close in on the townspeople who have no place to escape certain death.

Carpenter has described “The Fog” as being one of his least favorite movies as its initial cut proved to be very disappointing, and he had to reshoot and rescore much of it before its release. Whatever the case, it is a wonderfully atmospheric horror movie which stands among his finest works, and watching this 4K restoration of it reminds one of why certain movies play best on the silver screen.

It’s also fun to watch a movie made back in the pre-digital age when cell phones and GPS were not around to save our heroes. Instead, they had to deal with landlines, a desperate DJ and the limits of technology. After watching “The Fog” again in this day and age, I kept waiting for one of the characters to say the following:

“It’s just you, me, and my Thomas Guide.”

* * * * out of * * * *

David Gordon Green’s ‘Halloween’ is the Sequel We Have Been Waiting For

Halloween 2018 theatrical poster

Why do filmmakers constantly insist on doing a retcon of the “Halloween” franchise? Every once in a while, the continuity of the series is tossed to the wayside, usually for profit and greed, but perhaps deep down there are those out there who remain infinitely eager for a true final showdown between Laurie Strode and Michael Myers. We thought we got it in 1981’s “Halloween II,” but even Michael couldn’t stay down after being burned beyond recognition. Then there was “Halloween H2O: 20 Years Later,” but that was really a “Scream” movie disguised as a “Halloween” movie, and what resulted did not feel particularly compelling.

But just when you thought it was time to lay this long-running franchise to rest, along comes the simply titled “Halloween” which wipes the slate clean to give us the true sequel fans of the series have been waiting 40 years for. Once again, Michael Myers breaks free and heads back to Haddonfield, Illinois for a bloody homecoming. But this time, Laurie Strode is ready and waiting, and she is not about to take any prisoners. As this “Halloween” unfolds, you will see what Sylvester Stallone meant when he said, in his pursuit of Wesley Snipes in “Demotion Man:”

“Send a maniac to catch a maniac.”

In this alternate timeline, Michael did not escape at the end of John Carpenter’s “Halloween,” but was instead captured and sent back to Smith’s Grove Sanitarium and has remained there for the last 40 years. His latest psychiatrist, Dr. Ranbir Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), insists Michael can talk but chooses not to, but this doesn’t stop a pair of true-crime podcasters, Aaron Korey (Jefferson Hall) and Dana Haines (Rhian Rees), from trying to make him speak. But once Aaron pulls Michael’s old mask out of his bag, we know it won’t be long before they are reminded of what curiosity did to the cat.

This particular “Halloween” was directed by David Gordon Green and co-written by him, Jeff Fradley and actor Danny McBride, and the respect they have for Carpenter’s 1978 horror classic is on display throughout. They even bring back the serif font from the original’s credits as they are determined to make us accept this is a direct sequel to the original. I admired how the credits started off with a pumpkin which looks to have been stomped on many times and which reforms slowly but surely. It’s almost like a metaphor for this franchise as many continue to resurrect Michael, or “The Shape” as he is often referred to, to diminishing results.

Green is one of those filmmakers who goes from making independent films like “All the Real Girls” and “Joe” to more mainstream movies such as “Pineapple Express” and “Stronger” with relative ease. With his “Halloween,” he gives a slow-burn thriller which thankfully doesn’t peak too soon. Many horror movies give us their best moments far too early these days, so it’s nice to see Green not making this same mistake here as he gives us a deeply suspenseful thriller which builds up and up to its much-anticipated climax.

I also have to given Green and his collaborators credit for giving us characters we care about here. It is impossible not to relate to them in one way or another as we remember having their same needs and desires when we were their age. Many of the “Friday the 13th” sequels kept giving us characters we couldn’t wait to see killed off as we were made to hate them, but when the residents of Haddonfield are killed off, you cannot help but feel for them, and not just because some never got the chance to lose their virginity.

The real big news, however, about this “Halloween” is that Carpenter is back. It marks his return to the franchise he created for the first time since “Halloween III: Season of the Witch.” I imagine money was a big motivating factor, but I do believe Carpenter when he said how enthusiastic he was to Green and McBride’s pitch for this movie. In addition to acting as executive producer, Carpenter also scored the movie along with his son Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies, and they give the brutal proceedings here an extra hard kick in the ass (click here to check out my review of the soundtrack).

But let’s face facts, the real star of this “Halloween” movie is not Michael Myers, but Laurie Strode. Jamie Lee Curtis returns to her iconic role with a real vengeance, and she plays Laurie to the hilt in this installment. When Curtis first played Laurie, she was a kind, shy and innocent young woman. 40 years later, Laurie is a shell of her former self as her life has been severely undone by PTSD, alcoholism and agoraphobia. She has spent the past few decades training to be a survivalist as her life is now dedicated to removing Michael from the face of the earth, and it has all come at the expense of her own family.

Curtis has always put in a great performance in each movie she appears in, be it a good or a bad one, but she really hits it out of the park here. She succeeds in turning Laurie Strode into a bad ass warrior who is never determined to suffer as she did before, and at times she threatens to be more frightening than Michael herself. Just check out the scene when Laurie breaks into her daughter Karen’s (Judy Greer) house and reminds her bluntly of how unprepared she is for the oncoming slaughter.

Moreover, Curtis really makes us sympathize with Laurie Strode throughout. We know all what she has been through, and to see the effect it has on those closest to her is heartbreaking. We learn she has been divorced twice, and her daughter Karen wants little to do with her and constantly begs her to get help. Even when Laurie absent-mindedly takes a drink from a glass of wine like as it it were was an automatic impulse, we feel for her as no one can see Michael Myers as being the embodiment of pure evil the way she can.

Watching Curtis as Laurie here quickly reminded me of a line the late Natasha Richardson said in the movie “Patty Hearst:”

“I finally realized what my crime was, I lived. Big mistake. Very messy.”

The cast overall does really good work, and they are made of very likable and dependable actors including Judy Greer and Will Patton who make their characters seem very down to earth in a way you want them to be. One real standout here is Andi Matichak who plays Allyson, Laurie’s granddaughter and the only one capable of having a meaningful relationship with her. Matichak proves to be a very appealing presence here, and she makes Allyson into a strong and defiant young woman who is not about to suffer fools at all.

As “Halloween” builds up to its inevitable climax, Green keeps increasing the tension throughout. He smartly leaves Michael in the shadows, and you can’t help but wondering when he is going to jump out. Green also leaves you wondering if we might actually see Michael’s face or even hear him speak. Does he? Wouldn’t you like to know?

This “Halloween” is not at all groundbreaking, but then again neither was Carpenter’s film. The 1978 “Halloween” owed a lot to the works of Alfred Hitchcock among others, but it also managed to give a freshness to its genre in the same way “Psycho” did years before. With any “Halloween” follow-up, we can only hope for it to be as good, if not better, than the original. There’s no way you can top what Carpenter pulled off 40 years ago as none of us saw Michael Myers coming. But with this “Halloween,” we get the true sequel the original never quite received, and it proves to be well worth the wait.

There is also something very cathartic about watching this one in the midst of the #MeToo movement. Essentially, we are watching a woman take revenge on a man who thoughtlessly ruined her life years before, and seeing her do battle with him makes this “Halloween” especially thrilling. Lord knows women have been forced to be silent for far too long, so seeing one get her revenge feels much, much overdue.

By the way, I think I’m going to start calling this one “Halloween: 40 is the New 20.” It seems appropriate, don’t you think?

* * * ½ out of * * * *

WRITER’S NOTE: A lot of people have been getting made at Jamie Lee Curtis recently. We see her wielding many different weapons and firearms in this movie as Laurie Strode, but some have been quick to call her a hypocrite for doing so as her stance on gun control and the need for it has been well-documented. Why she appearing in this movie infinitely armed and complaining about gun violence in real life? Ladies and gentlemen, what Curtis is doing in this movie is called ACTING. SHE IS PLAYING A CHARACTER. Whatever happened to make believe anyway? Not all actors are out to put their political issues into each movie they do. Do yourself and everyone else a favor and stop blurring the line between fiction and non-fiction. That is all.

Soundtrack Review: ‘Halloween’ (2018)

Halloween 2018 soundtrack cover

As I write this, I have not yet seen David Gordon Green’s “Halloween,” the movie I am looking forward to the most this fall season. I was, however, lucky enough to get a copy of its soundtrack while at the “Halloween: 40 Years of Terror” convention this past weekend in Pasadena, California. I had preordered the soundtrack on iTunes, but anyone who knows me has no doubt of what a die-hard fan I am of Carpenter’s music as well as his movies, so of course I had to purchase a physical copy even if it meant spending more money.

This 2018 “Halloween” movie marks Carpenter’s return to this undying horror franchise since “Halloween III: Season of the Witch,” and it is also the first film score he has composed since 2001’s “Ghost of Mars.” With this score, he joins forces with his son Cody Carpenter and godson Daniel Davies to not only build on the themes he made famous back in 1978, but to give us new ones as well. What results is a highly effective score which I have been listening to endlessly ever since I purchased it.

The “Halloween Theme” is a musical piece impossible for most to ever get sick of, but listening to it on this soundtrack reminds me of how no one can play it better than Carpenter. Along with Cody and Daniel, he makes this theme as potent as ever especially with its ticking sound in the background which spells out how evil will be arriving in Haddonfield before we know it.

“Laurie’s Theme” sounds much different this time around. Whereas her theme in the 1978 “Halloween” and 1981’s “Halloween II” highlighted Laurie’s innocence and lack of awareness of the horror she would be forced to endure, this version acknowledges how haunted she remains after Michael Myers almost killed her 40 years ago. As we should all know by now, Green’s “Halloween” serves as a direct sequel to Carpenter’s 1978 original, wiping the slate clean of all the other sequels and reboots. So, the Laurie Strode we see here as long since become hardened by her terrifying encounters with pure evil to where it appears she only lives for revenge.

Carpenter does bring back some of his old musical stings which are always welcome, but there are other stings which come at us more furiously than ever before. There is an unrelenting edge to tracks like “Michael Kills” or “The Shape Kills” which go far beyond the original “Halloween’s” simplistic musical design. Evil sounds even more furious than it did previously, and the driving rhythms of the music here promises us a thrilling good time at the movies.

John Carpenter once said he can play just about any keyboard but that he cannot read or write a note. Regardless, nothing has stopped his growth as a musician or a film composer. His son, Cody Carpenter, has since proven himself to be a very talented musician in his own right, and his additions to this score only heighten the tension in it. Daniel Davies sounds like he is having so much fun experimenting with guitar sounds, and they add a real edge to a score which proves to be anything but an exercise in nostalgia.

The soundtrack concludes with the track “Halloween Triumphant” which is an epic piece of film score as it combines John’s unforgettable “Halloween” theme with the musical additions of Cody and Daniel who help update his themes for a new generation. Listening to it brings a smile to my face as the three men have composed what feels like an ode to the enduring legacy this 1978 horror classic continues to have on filmgoers everywhere, and it sounds like a victory march in more ways than one.

When John Carpenter composed the original “Halloween” score in just three days, it is clear how he and his collaborators had more time to develop one more multi-layered for Michael Myers latest cinematic onslaught. This is not just a return to the musical themes John made famous years ago, but it is also an opportunity to expand on them as the filmmaker and composer is clearly not content to just give us the same old thing. Along with Cody and Daniel, he gives us a superb soundtrack which I find myself listening to endlessly as the music proves to be more complex than I expected it to be.

The 2018 “Halloween” soundtrack is a must buy, and I encourage you to buy it when it is released on October 19, 2018.

‘The Trump Prohecy’ – Yes, it is Real, and it Looks Awful

The Trump Prophecy poster

I learned of this movie’s existence through an article on the Birth Movies Death website, and its headline declared its trailer to be “one of the worst things we’ve ever seen.” Just when I thought I wouldn’t see a worse movie in 2018 than “Death of a Nation,” this one just might beat it for that unenviable title. But after watching this trailer, I’m not really eager to see it after sitting through Dinesh D’Souza’s latest historical garbage-fest.

The Trump Prophecy” is a Christian drama which tells the story of fireman Mark Taylor who believes, in April 2011, God told him Donald Trump would one day be elected President of the United States. Well, this makes sense, right? Because we know God talks to the sanest people on planet Earth all the time, right? And why wouldn’t God want Trump move into the White House? Could there be another white man who can personify what a true Christian is other than the host of “The Apprentice?”

Yes, I’m being sarcastic, but you can tell. “The Trump Prophecy” looks to defy all reasonable logic to make its audience believe Trump was anointed by God to become President of the United States. The trailer starts off with us being introduced to Mark Taylor (Chris Nelson) who talks about having seen everything as a fireman. But then we see him suffering through a nightmare, and the acting on display is as bad as any in “Death of a Nation.” Remember the beginning where Eva Braun dies a most unintentionally hilarious death? Mark’s bad dream threatens to be even worse.

From there, we people praying endlessly for what one character calls “the Commander-in-Chief prophecy.” Basically, Mark thinks his dreams are God’s way of talking to him. We are then shown headlines which say how Trump has no chance of winning the election, but Mark is intent on leading others in prayer as he looks to make America great again in a way which defies logic. There’s even a bible verse mentioned which I guess is used to justify this movie’s title. The description of this movie is hilarious enough, but watching its trailer has my eyes rolling all the way in the back of my head.

Look, many have a strong bias against faith-based movies like “God’s Not Dead” as they are made with an agenda in mind which results in a product which is an unforgivable insult to our collective intelligence. I try to keep an open mind to them as not all of them are out to do this, but “The Trump Prophecy” clearly is as there still many supporters who are determined to support Trump in spite of all the damage he has done so far. By now, it should be clear to the majority of Americans, let alone people around the world, that Trump is anything but a true Christian. He cheated on his wife with Stormy Daniels, his administration is full of corrupt people, several of who have since been indicted, and he clearly holds his own self-interests above all others.

“The Trump Prophecy,” like many faith-based movies, was made on a very low budget ($2 million to be exact) and in cooperation with the film department at Liberty University, the evangelical Christian school founded by the late Jerry Falwell. It is also directed by the head of that school’s film department head, Stephan Schultze. Only evangelical Christians would dare make a movie like this as they remain convinced beyond a doubt that Trump deserves to be President above all others, including those who are actual politicians.

Yes, I am tempted to see it in the same way I rush out to see Dinesh D’Souza’s movies, so I can analyze everything wrong with them. But this time I think I will pass as there are many others worth my time as Oscar season is heating up. Learning of “The Trump Prophecy” and watching its trailer simply serves as a reminder of how people willfully blind themselves to horrible truths, and of why Christianity and evangelical Christianity need to be seen as two very separate things.

Right now, I keep thinking of John Carpenter’s “Pro-Life,” the “Halloween” director’s second episode for the Showtime series “Masters of Horror.” That episode featured a religious fanatic played by Ron Perlman who was determined to rescue his daughter from an abortion clinic, especially after he hears a voice telling him to save her baby. But in the end, the voice he hears is revealed to be a demon who looks to unleash literal hell on earth. Perhaps it is unfair to compare Mark Taylor to Ron Perlman’s character as I am sure he is a decent man looking to lead a peaceful life, but hey, both said God talked to them.

Fathom Events will be screening “The Trump Prophecy” two days only, October 2 and 4, 2018, in theaters throughout the United States. While watching the trailer, which is included below, you may hear a voice talking to you. If this voice is telling you “save your money,” you are not insane.

 

‘Generation Wealth’ Finds Hope Outside of the Corrupted American Dream

Generation Wealth poster

In 1988, John Carpenter made “They Live,” a science fiction horror film about a drifter who discovers the ruling class are actually aliens who have managed to conceal their existence and manipulate the human race into spending money and to “obey” them through subliminal messages in mass media. Years later, when Carpenter was attending a screening at the Egyptian Theatre, he described “They Live” as being his response to his horror at the Ronald Reagan years and his distaste at the increased commercialization of politics and popular culture in the 1980’s. When I was at a screening of “Big Trouble in Little China,” and I got to ask Carpenter the following question:

“You have said ‘They Live’ was your response to your horror at the Reagan years. With George W. Bush currently wreaking havoc around the globe, don’t you think this is the perfect time for a sequel?”

Carpenter’s response stays with me to this day:

“The 80’s never left us.”

Looking back, he was absolutely right. While I am a child of the 80’s and have a great love for that decade, it marked the start of America becoming an infinitely greedy nation as we strove to become very rich, deficits began to explode, and politicians began selling us on trickle down economics which promised that tax cuts on the rich would benefit the middle and lower classes. This proved to be a big lie, and yet politicians still try to sell Americans on it.

All of this went through my head as I watched Lauren Greenfield’s “Generation Wealth.” This documentary comes to us in 2018, and it proves once again how the 80’s still live on as we watch individuals try to become wealthy or at least gain the appearance of being rich. What results is a look at how the American Dream has been corrupted, the cost of greed, and the chance for redemption.

Greenfield is an acclaimed photographer and filmmaker, and “Generation Wealth” starts off with her narrating how through her 25 years of work, she discovers her work has pointed to one uniting phenomenon: wealth culture. From there, she investigates the various pathologies which created the richest society in the world, and she interviews several people who look to increase their bank accounts or change the way they look to where society will view them as sexy.

We meet Florian Homm, a former hedge-fund manager who at one time had a net worth of $800 million and ended up fleeing the United States to avoid getting arrested by the FBI. Watching him sit back on a couch while smoking a cigar with glee makes him look the modern-day version of Tony Montana from “Scarface.” Homm is never shy about just how much he loves money, and he laughingly admits how Harvard Business School didn’t train him to be an ethical businessman but instead to be “fine-tuned to rule the world.”

We also get introduced to Cathy, a bus driver from Virginia who travels to Brazil to get extensive plastic surgery which she charges to a credit card, the successful porn star Kacey who gained notoriety after Charlie Sheen paid her $30,000 for a days long party and drug binge, a young beauty queen who looks like a combination of Honey Boo Boo and JonBenet Ramsey, and former rapper Cliff (G-Mo) who we first celebrating the hip-hop version of the American Dream. They all want the best-looking bodies as well as all the money in the world, but as Greenfield says at one point, those who have everything never feel like they have enough.

I found myself getting sickened by the subjects Greenfield photographed and interviewed as it felt they were doing more damage to themselves than good to where they appeared, if not soulless, very empty on the inside. It proved to be a relief when someone like Chris Hedges shows up to put some much-needed perspective on what we are seeing as he compares America’s obsession with wealth to the end of Rome. At one point he even says, “Societies accrue the most wealth as they face death.” Can America be close to suffering the same fate? It certainly feels like it.

Greenfield doesn’t break new ground with “Generation Wealth” as Michael Moore already compared Rome’s fall with America in “Capitalism: A Love Story,” and “The Big Short” was an entertaining and sobering look at the 2007-2008 financial crisis. Do we need to go through how greed has wrecked America in yet another movie? Oh yes, we do! This country threatens to make the same mistakes yet again as politicians still insist on selling its citizens on trickle-down economics.

One key character from the 1980’s whom Greenfield highlights is Gordon Gekko, the fictional and unscrupulous corporate raider Michael Douglas played in Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street.” But while Stone intended for “Wall Street” to be a cautionary tale about the downside of unchecked greed, Gekko proved to be such a charismatic character to where he became a huge inspiration for those desperate to make it big on Wall Street. It didn’t matter how Gekko set a terrible example for them, these wannabes still looked up to him, and there is a good deal of him in many of the people Greenfield interviews here.

Greenfield to her credit she never judges any of the people featured here. She presents their stories objectively and never tries to manipulate us into thinking about them in one way or another. Whether you are intrigued or repulsed by the things they do, there is a sense of empathy I had for them as they become more and more human as the documentary reaches its final act.

When it comes to “Generation Wealth’s” final act, we see the results and repercussions of the actions everyone has made as they reach a plateau in their quest for money. Greenfield aligns their journey with the catastrophic financial crash of 2008 which left much damage in its wake. Seeing these people on the other side of it has them finding something absolutely priceless while others find tragedy and financial ruin. This proves to be both inspiring and devastating all at the same time.

“Generation Wealth” does lose some of its focus as Greenfield awkwardly inserts herself into her documentary. Is she also interested in being rich and wealthy? Is she well off thanks to her photography? It’s hard to say what she is saying about herself, but it does lead to some very amusing moments as one of her sons admits he knows the name of each Kardashian but not those of his neighbors, and her other little boy ends up inserting a sign in front of her camera as she films everything and anything. I don’t want to spoil the moment for you as it had me laughing endlessly.

Watching “Generation Wealth” kind of reminded of when I first saw “Doc Hollywood” which starred Michael J. Fox as a doctor intent on making tons of money as a plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills, and who later finds a more meaningful life for himself in Grady, South Carolina. But that was a fictional movie, and this one deals with real life, and I came out of it with more hope for the human race than when I went in. This documentary also shows how life is about the journey rather than the final destination. While I wanted to sit some of these characters down and force them to pay close attention to the lyrics of Digital Underground’s “No Nose Job,” it is worth watching their journey as, like them, we come to see what matters most in life.

With that, I leave you with the words Harold Perrineau uttered as Augustus Hill on the HBO series “Oz:”

“We think we know what we need. We spend our time figuring out how to get what we want, who can help us, who’s in the way. We make our moves and sometimes we get lucky. We get exactly what we want. And life gets worse. Simple truth #22, be careful what you wish for, brother. Be very, very careful.”

* * * ½ out of * * * *

The Best Movies of 1998

1998 logo

Now it’s time to go to take a look back at the movies of 1998, the same year when California started the ban on smoking in bars and restaurants. What else happened that year? John Glenn became the oldest astronaut to go into space, and it gave us a reason to watch the space shuttle launch on television for the first time in years. The Denver Broncos became the first AFC team in 14 years to win the Super Bowl when they beat the Green Bay Packers (I’m so glad I didn’t bet on that game). The whole controversy of President Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky exploded, which the President’s enemies seized upon like teenagers going through their dads’ Playboy magazine issues while he is out of town. And, most ironically, a court in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan ruled Osama Bin Laden was “a man without a sin” in regard to the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Well, we knew better.

As for myself, I was in my second year at UC Irvine and my fourth year in college. I still had a dorm room all to myself, and I was busy with school work and appearing in plays like “Enrico IV,” “The Scarlet Letter” and “Twelfth Night.” Of course, I tried to get out to the movies as much as humanly possible. Many of the movies on this list were ones I actually didn’t get around to seeing until years later, so it’s probably best I am giving you this list now.

10) There’s Something About Mary

Theres Something About Mary poster

Bobby and Peter Farrelly gave us one of the most gut bustlingly hilarious movies ever made with “There’s Something About Mary.” I was dying with laughter while watching this, and I wasn’t expecting to. In retrospect, I should have though since this came from the same directors who gave us “Dumb and Dumber” as well as “Kingpin.” On top of having so many funny moments, the movie also has a lot of heart in the way it portrays the two main characters played by Ben Stiller and Cameron Diaz. Those of you who think Diaz can’t act need to revisit this one because she is so good at playing a teenager who we later see as a well-meaning adult with a few too many stalkers.

9) American History X

American History X poster

So much has been said about the making of “American History X” and the bitter disagreements between director Danny Kaye and actor Edward Norton. Regardless of whoever deserves the majority of the credit, there is no denying this is a powerful and unforgettable motion picture. Norton gave one of his very best performances as white supremacist Derek Vineyard, and the look he gives the camera after killing two people is a very chilling moment which is not easily erased from the conscious mind. Norton also gets great support from Edward Furlong who plays Danny, Derek’s brother, who threatens to tread down the same hateful path Derek has. Kaye, even if he didn’t get final cut, gives the movie an amazing look in black and white which captures the escalating tension of Derek’s journey from a world of hate to a place of compassion.

8) Dark City

Dark City movie poster

Alex Proyas followed up his brilliant adaptation of “The Crow” with this visionary sci-fi epic about a man who wakes up not knowing who he is, and of those who seek to capture him for their own twisted experiments. Like many great sci-fi movies “Dark City” was a box office flop upon its release, but it has since found an audience to where there’s no denying it is a cult classic. You’re along for the ride with Rufus Sewell as he tries to understand his place in a world ruled over by the Strangers. This movie remains suspenseful to the very end, and the look of the movie feels like no other I have ever seen. Jennifer Connelly also stars in the film and looks beautiful as always, and it is interesting to watch Kiefer Sutherland play a complete wimp after watching him for so long on “24.”

7) Out Of Sight

Out of Sight movie poster

Here’s the film which brought Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney together, and it also serves as one of the very best adaptations of an Elmore Leonard novel. With “Out of Sight,” Clooney proved without a doubt there was going to be life for him after “ER” with his performance as Jack Foley, the most successful bank robber in America. When Jack escapes from jail, he ends up sharing some trunk space with Federal Marshall Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez). “Out of Sight” also marked the beginning of a career resurgence for Soderbergh, and he got to work from a truly great screenplay written by Scott Frank. Also starring is the fantastic Catherine Keener, Ving Rhames, Steve Zahn, Dennis Farina, Isaiah Washington, and the always reliable Don Cheadle. This movie was a lot of fun, and Clooney and Lopez had such great chemistry together.

6) Rushmore

Rushmore movie poster

This was my introduction to the highly creative world of Wes Anderson. “Rushmore” is an instant comedy classic with more depth to it than many others of its genre at the time. Max Fischer is an original eccentric character; a young man involved in just about ever extra-curricular activity at school, all at the expense of his report card. Jason Schwartzman is great fun to watch as Max, and Bill Murray gives a performance which damn well should have earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. With Anderson, his comedy is fueled by the sadness and isolation of his characters, and of the things they desperately want in life. “Rushmore” is filled with as much meaning as it does laughter as both Schwartzman and Murray battle over the same woman played by Olivia Williams. It also owes a lot to the late Mike Nichols’ enduring classic “The Graduate.”

5) Happiness

Happiness movie poster

Todd Solondz’s follow up to “Welcome To The Dollhouse” may very well be the most ironically titled film in cinema history. Controversy followed “Happiness” all the way to its release, and the MPAA of course just had to give it an NC-17 (it ended up being released unrated). One of the blackest of black comedies ever, it follows the lives of three sisters and the various people who are a part of their fragile lives. The late Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a frighteningly memorable performance as an obscene phone caller, and it was one of the first real examples of the brilliant character actor we came to see him as. But the bravest performance comes from Dylan Baker who plays Bill Maplewood, a psychiatrist, husband and loving father who, unbeknownst to his family, is a pedophile. Baker ends up making you empathize, but not sympathize, with a man who we would instantly despise once we discovered his terrible secret. As unappealing as these characters may seem, Solondz makes us see ourselves in them and to where we cannot see we are not all that different.

4) The Big Lebowski

The Big Lebowski movie poster

I didn’t get to see this when it first came out in theaters, but my parents did eventually strap me down in a chair to watch it, and this should give you an idea of how much they love it. The Coen brothers follow up to “Fargo” did not get the same reception when originally released, but it has since built up an amazing cult following. Much of this is thanks to Jeff Bridges’ brilliant performance as Jeffrey Lebowski, aka “The Dude.” What could have been a performance built on stereotypes of the slackers we know in life turns out to be perhaps the most memorable character in Bridges’ long and underappreciated career. It’s an ingenious comedy with not so much a plot as a connected series of events which start with the theft of Lebowski’s carpet which he says “tied the whole room together.”

3) The Truman Show

The Truman Show movie poster

It still seems criminal how Peter Weir’s film was surprisingly, and infuriatingly, snubbed for a Best Picture nomination. Jim Carrey gives a truly astonishing and powerful performance as Truman Burbank, a man who slowly becomes aware he is the star of a reality show about his life. Yes, he should have been nominated for an Oscar alongside his co-star Ed Harris, but there will always be the unforgivable snubs. “The Truman Show” has become a prophetic movie of sorts as reality shows are the norm in today’s culture, and this obsession we have over them remains very strong to this day. Andrew Niccol’s screenplay was a brilliant examination of how we might view our own life if we found out it was based on a lie, and that everything we know is actually wrong. This stands as one of Weir’s best American movies in a long and justly acclaimed career.

2) Shakespeare In Love

Shakespeare in Love movie poster

While it may have gotten overwhelmed by Miramax’s Oscar campaign, there’s no denying “Shakespeare In Love” is a brilliant and highly entertaining romantic comedy. The film tells the story of how Shakespeare goes about writing “Romeo & Ethel The Pirate’s Daughter” which eventually evolves into “Romeo & Juliet.” Gwyneth Paltrow gives a most entrancing performance, and I loved watching her every second she appeared onscreen. Joseph Fiennes is perfectly cast as Shakespeare himself, a passionate writer who is hopelessly enamored with Paltrow’s Viola. I also got a huge kick out of Geoffrey Rush’s performance as theater manager Philip Henslowe, a brilliant comic creation who steals every scene he is in. “Shakespeare In Love” serves as not just a great story of how Shakespeare may have written one of the most immortal plays ever, but also as a great satire of the film industry and how it deviously profits from unsuspecting participants.

And now, drum roll please…

1) Saving Private Ryan

Saving Private Ryan movie poster

It would be so easy to put this as my top choice thanks to some of the greatest and most vividly realistic depictions of war ever put on film. Steven Spielberg’s depiction of the landing on D-Day is nothing short of amazing, and it was one of the reasons why I saw this film five times before it came out on DVD. But moreover, it is a deeply respectful salute to those war veterans who served in the armed forces during World War II. “Saving Private Ryan” is filled with great performances from a great cast of actors including Edward Burns, Jeremy Davies, Giovanni Ribisi, Tom Sizemore, Adam Goldberg, Vin Diesel, Matt Damon, and Barry Pepper among others. But it also has one of Tom Hanks’ best performances ever as Captain John Miller, a military man who leads his men to find Private Ryan and bring him back home to his grieving mother. Just when you thought Spielberg had peaked with “Schindler’s List,” he gives us yet another astonishing piece of filmmaking which shows him at the height of his powers.

Honorable Mentions:

Primary Colors – Great Mike Nichols movie based on the book by Joe Klein. It features great performances from John Travolta, Emma Thompson, Kathy Bates as well as an extraordinary cameo from Mykelti Williamson.

Bullworth – Warren Beatty’s scathing political satire may be a bit too broad, but it is a very effective indictment of how the Democratic Party let the American people down.

Elizabeth – Definitely worth mentioning for the brilliant breakthrough performance of Cate Blanchett as Queen Elizabeth.

Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas – Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s crazy novel is a true acid trip nightmare with Johnny Depp channeling the reporter all the way to what he was famous for wearing and smoking.

God Said, Ha! – Wonderful concert film of Julia Sweeney’s one-woman show which deals with the time her brother got cancer, and of how she later got cancer herself.

Hurlyburly – Film adaptation of David Rabe’s play dealing with Hollywood players and their dysfunctional relationships with one another. Features a great cast which includes Sean Penn, Chazz Palminteri and Anna Paquin among others.

Affliction – Another emotionally bruising movie from Paul Schrader which is based on the novel by Russell Banks. Features career high performances from Nick Nolte and the late James Coburn who deservedly won an Oscar for his work.

Next Stop Wonderland – An eccentrically unusual kind of romantic comedy which helped introduce actress Hope Davis to a wider audience.

Ronin – One of the last films from the late John Frankenheimer which stars Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, and Jonathan Pryce among others. It also features some of the very best car chases of the 1990’s.

Run Lola Run – Kinetic German thriller with Franka Potente that views her attempts to save her boyfriend’s life in three different ways. This was a great teaser for what would come in 1999, when movies of different kinds proceeded to change the rules of where a story could go.

The Thin Red Line – Terrence Malick’s first movie in over 20 years threatened to be more meandering than anything else, but it is filled with such powerful imagery and to where many considered it more anti-war than “Saving Private Ryan” was.

John Carpenter’s Vampires – It was advertised as a horror movie, but it is really a more of a western and the closest John Carpenter has ever come to making one. James Woods’ performance alone is worth the price of admission as he plays the most badass of vampire hunters, Jack Crow.

Star Trek: Insurrection – Much better than its reputation may suggest, being an odd numbered Star Trek movie and all.