Martin Freeman on Playing Bilbo Baggins in ‘The Hobbit’

Martin Freeman The Hobbit photo

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was written in 2012.

He’s made a name for himself on BBC television shows like “The Office” and “Sherlock,” and he had the lead role of Arthur Dent in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” But now actor Martin Freeman gets his biggest role to date as Bilbo Baggins in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” This character was previously portrayed by Ian Holm in Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, but Freeman now has the privilege of playing Bilbo in a movie which takes place sixty years before that trilogy’s beginning.

When it comes to portraying a character who has been played by a well-known actor in previous films, the task can seem quite daunting. Any actor in this position usually has to deal with a shadow hanging over them as their performance will always be compared to what came before. Holm’s Bilbo, however, functioned more as a cameo in “The Lord of the Rings” movies as he was only in them briefly. Furthermore, Freeman more than makes this role his own as he takes Bilbo from being someone who’s just minding their own business to someone willing to risk their life to help others. Still, you had to wonder if Freeman spent a lot of time studying Holm’s work in the previous films. Eventually, he cleared this up with Steve ‘Frosty’ Weintraub of the Collider website.

“I’ve watched the films again, obviously in more detail before I came to this. I looked at Ian’s (performance) more when I needed to. Again, I don’t really know how much I should say, but there were points where it was relevant for me to look very closely at Ian’s performance,” Freeman told Weintraub. “But generally, no because I think we’re quite good. I know why I was cast; do you know what I mean? Because I think we’re not that dissimilar, physically or whatever else. I think if I was, I don’t know, Jeff Goldblum or someone, then I might be thinking right, hang on, if he’s the older me I’d better attend more to something else maybe. Well, grow, for a start. But no, ’cause I think I was always trusted with it.”

“All I was told, which I think was flattery, and probably bollocks, was you are the only person to play it. So, I thought, well if they think that, then I’ve got to trust that,” Freeman continued. “And there’s only so much you can run with someone else’s thing. It’s very helpful in the way that it’s brilliant as he is always brilliant, and it’s a beautiful establisher of that character and a very loved one for obvious reasons. But it can also hamper you if you’re thinking, like in the barrels, if there’s even part of me thinking, how would Ian have done this, then I’m fucked. So, I’ve got to let that go. I’ve always been mindful of it because I’m familiar with it. But I think the work for that connection was done in the casting of me, rather than what I’m then going to do on top of it.”

In an interview with Colin Covert of the Toledo Blade, Freeman described Bilbo as being neither “the main guy in the room” or an “alpha male.” Looking back at “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” this gave the actor a great starting off point as he has to take this character from being a timid and rather pompous man to one who acts selflessly. Freeman really gives an exceptional performance as Bilbo’s transition from a self-centered person to a warrior of sorts feels seamless and subtle. You never consciously catch the actor trying to shift his character in a certain direction because it all seems to come about naturally.

One of the movie’s pivotal scenes comes when Bilbo meets up with Gollum who is again played by the brilliant Andy Serkis. This scene was actually shot in the first week of production and apparently took a whole week to film. When it comes to CGI characters, the actors usually have to play opposite something or someone which isn’t there. Fortunately for Freeman, Serkis was there on set to give life to Gollum, and he talked with Meredith Woerner of i09 about what it was like working with Serkis.

“Andy feels real,” Freeman told Woerner. “Obviously he doesn’t look like Gollum, strictly speaking, but he’s being Gollum. And I’m an animal of the theater and you’re used to using your imagination. You don’t have to use your imagination that much when you hear that voice and see the physicality and you think, oh there’s Gollum. There’s a man or a creature that wants to eat me. It didn’t feel very cheated at all. Gollum is such a beloved character. There’s a special place in people’s hearts for Gollum, I think. People who love the books and the films are delighted he’s in this, I think.”

Seriously, Martin Freeman gives a pitch perfect performance as Bilbo Baggins in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” to where you wonder if he and Ian Holm were actually separated at birth. This bodes well for the next two movies in Jackson’s “Hobbit” trilogy, and it will be interesting to see where Freeman takes this character from here.

One other thing; Freeman made it clear how Leonard Nimoy’s song “The Legend of Bilbo Baggins” did not play a big part in his research for the role.

“It helped me enjoy that three minutes of listening to it,” Freeman said of the song. “I’m still baffled by it.”

SOURCES:

Steve ‘Frosty’ Weintraub, “Martin Freeman Talks the Ring’s Impact on Bilbo, Being a Favorite for the Role & a Lot More on the Set of THE HOBBIT,” Collider, October 25, 2012.

Colin Covert, “Q&A; with ‘Hobbit’ Martin Freeman,” Toledo Blade, December 17, 2012.

Meredith Woerner, “The Hobbit’s Martin Freeman on dwarves, Gollum and Leonard Nimoy,” i09, December 16, 2012.

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Thomas Jane on Playing Todd Parker in ‘Boogie Nights’

Boogie Nights Thomas Jane photo

WRITER’S NOTE: This is from a Q&A which took place on October 5, 2012.

Actor Thomas Jane was excited to be a guest at New Beverly Cinema as the theater presented the first day of their Paul Thomas Anderson movie marathon. One of the movie’s being shown this evening was “Boogie Nights” which served as Jane’s big acting breakthrough, and in it he plays dancer Todd Parker who becomes a dangerous friend to the characters played by Mark Wahlberg and John C. Reilly. During a Q&A which was moderated by Brian McQuery, Jane talked about how he prepared to play Todd and of what it was like working with Anderson.

One audience member asked Jane if he prepared a certain voice or walk for when he played Todd, and he replied he usually took the script for “Boogie Nights” to this theater he was working out of in Los Angeles where he could get his fellow actors to play all the other parts. It was there where Jane did a lot of experimentation which led him giving the role his own interpretation.

“I’d bring in funny glasses, do my hair crazy and try all this different stuff like bringing in a flowered shirt to wear,” Jane said. “I didn’t have any clue about who this guy was. I just knew that I was trying to find him, and then it just clicked in one day. I think it was the voice and just doing the scenes in my little theater off of Hyperion and Melrose. The first thing I found as an actor was the way Todd talked, and once I found that then everything else happened with the role.”

Jane first heard about “Boogie Nights” from casting director Christine Sheaks who had sent him the script which she said was “pretty amazing.” Upon reading the scene where Todd, along with Dirk Diggler and Reed Rothchild, go to rob a drug dealer, Jane said he was especially interested in playing Todd. Then, after doing an improvisation with Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly in front of Anderson which lasted about fifteen minutes, he was cast in the role.

Looking back at shoot, Jane recollected much of what went on was improvised on set, and he attributed it to Anderson’s jazz-like direction.

“One thing that’s notable about the way Paul Thomas Anderson works is the freedom he gives to his actors,” Jane said. “We did have lines to say and stuff, but if you had an idea at the moment or a line to throw in or if something happens by mistake, he always encouraged that spontaneity and that freedom. That was what was so fun about working on ‘Boogie Nights.'”

When asked if he had any stories about the actors he worked with, Jane came up with a great one about Burt Reynolds. He talked about the scene where Wahlberg gets into a fight with Reynolds over wanting to shoot his sex scene now instead of later, and Anderson told Jane to fuck with Reynolds and “get in his face” once Wahlberg ran away. So, Jane started messing with Reynolds like Anderson asked him to and even pushed him, and Reynolds ended up kicking Jane right in the nuts.

“He thought the take was over and I was some punk actor getting in his face,” Jane said of Reynolds. “Paul Thomas Anderson didn’t tell Burt Reynolds that we were doing a little improvisation after the scene was over! To his (Reynold’s) credit, he gave me a bottle of champagne in my trailer the next day and he actually turned out to be really cool.”

There was also a lot of talk about the scene at the drug dealer’s house when Cosmo kept throwing fire crackers all over the place. It turns out the actor playing Cosmo was actually a friend of Anderson’s, and the fire crackers were not originally in the script. However, it got Anderson the reactions he wanted so he just put it into the movie. But since the scene was shot over several days, Anderson had to find other ways to keep the actors on their feet.

“The first day was all fire crackers, but then we had to recreate that over the next three days,” Jane said. “After the first twenty or thirty fire crackers go off you’re kind of over it, but then you can’t hear anymore. So, Paul brought a starting pistol in and he used a starting pistol for a while and then that got old. I remember he brought in a big couple of boards and was whacking those together. That was a brilliant scene because all that stuff made the tension so high.”

Thomas Jane has come a long way from his hungry days as an actor, and seeing him strut his way onto the screen in “Boogie Nights” showed us a star had arrived. For him, talking about this movie at New Beverly Cinema was very special as he said he got his film education there. He also remembered when Sherman Torgan was running the theater back then and of how he let Jane in for free, and that popcorn and candy bars served as his nightly dinner for a time.

Jane has since moved on from “Boogie Nights” to make a successful acting career for himself, and he still has many great performances left to give.

All-Time Favorite Trailers: ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 – Dream Warriors’

Back when this particular horror sequel was released, Freddy Krueger was still a very frightening character. The burnt serial killer had yet to devolve into a stand-up comic, and just the thought of him hiding in the shadows of your dreams waiting to strike was enough to leave you unnerved. It’s a shame we have not yet seen a scene in any of the “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies where a teenager goes up to someone suffering from insomnia and tells them, “I envy you.”

Following this sequel, he ceased to be scary and became more of a cut-up than anything else, and we had to wait for “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” to see him as a truly threatening presence once again. But I never forgot what a haunting character Freddy was back in the 1980’s, and what I love about this teaser trailer for “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors” is it seizes on how fearful we were of him to where we didn’t even need to see his face to know he was just around the corner. Just hearing that little girl singing “1, 2, Freddy’s coming for you” was enough to make your hairs stand on end. And once we got a look at the model of Nancy Thompson’s old house which resides on Genesee Avenue on Los Angeles, my eyes went wide upon the realization this was indeed a trailer for another “Nightmare on Elm Street” movie. And then the hand with the claws burst out of the model, and I wanted to hide my eyes from the screen…

This teaser trailer for “Dream Warriors” remains one of my favorite trailers as it proved to be one of the scariest ever, and it piqued my interest in a character I would become more intrigued with as I got older.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 Dream Warriors poster

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.

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 * * * *

‘It’ Proves To Be one of the Best Stephen King Movies in a Long Time

It teaser poster

It” isn’t just one of my favorite Stephen King novels, it’s also one of my favorite books ever. On one hand, it is a terrifying tale of a malevolent force who takes the form of a clown and feeds on the fearful children living in Derry, Maine. On the other, it is a thoughtful and deeply felt examination of kids who are forced to endure a tougher childhood than anyone ever should. I read King’s massive novel (1,138 pages) back when I was a teenager, and it made me realize it was okay to be different than others. Looking back, it also reminded me of a line of dialogue from one of my all-time favorite movies, “Pump Up the Volume:”

“High school is the bottom. Being a teenager sucks, but that’s the point. Surviving it is the whole point.”

For those who have read this novel, you can see how it is more about the kids than it is about Pennywise the Dancing (not to mention incredibly vicious) clown. Thank goodness director Andy Muschietti realized this when he came on to direct the long-awaited film version of “It.” While Muschietti delivers the requisite thrills and chills a horror film like this one demands, he keeps a very observant eye on the kids and the conflicts they are forced to endure, and I don’t just mean Pennywise.

The film focuses on the book’s first half when the members of “The Losers’ Club” were suffering the slings and arrows of daily life at school. But while King set this half in the 1950’s, Muschietti moves things up to the 1980’s, a time of Ronald Reagan, calculator watches, New Kids on the Block, and movies like “Gremlins” and “Beetlejuice” which, like “It,” were released by Warner Brothers. This was a decade defined by greed, but for these kids, it was a time of innocence which would be destroyed for them far too quickly.

“It” was previously made into a wonderfully entertaining television miniseries by Tommy Lee Wallace, but Muschietti lets you know right from the start how the censorship of American television was not going to apply here. Little Georgie Denbrough suffers a most terrible fate when Pennywise bites his arm off and drags his body into the sewer, and even if you know this event is coming, it is still chilling to witness as this is the kind of thing movies typically avoid showing. From there, I couldn’t help but remain in a state of heightened anxiety as while I knew what was going to happen, the safety of network television was not around to reassure me about the horrors I was going to witness.

The misery and sufferings of The Losers’ Club feel much more unnerving on the silver screen than on television. It’s especially galling to see poor Beverly Marsh get wet garbage poured all over her in the bathroom as she has become the victim of unsubstantiated rumors that she is promiscuous. But judging from the moment she when she puts her backpack over her head for protection, she has been dealing with this stigma for a very long time. Or how about Ben Hanscom, the overweight new kid in town who has zero signatures in his yearbook, one of the saddest sights the audience is forced to take in here. While these kids’ sufferings don’t feel as raw as what Sissy Spacek endured in “Carrie,” it’s still easy to feel for these kids who have been cast out of what is perceived to be the realm of normal.

Heck, even their parents prove to be an emotionally distant, and if they are not, they instead prove to be ridiculously overprotective. Beverly’s father seems to care for her a little too much, and this care seems to imply crimes more insidious than our imaginations can ever handle. Eddie Kaspbrak’s mother is determined to keep him safe from any and every germ planet Earth has to offer, and at times she threatens to be as scary as Pennywise due her raising her son as if he is the reincarnation of Howard Hughes. As for William Denbrough, things will never be the same between him and his parents following the death of his brother Georgie.

There’s some passage in the Bible which says God only gives you what you can handle, but the members of The Losers’ Club have far more than anyone should ever be made to handle, and this is made clear before Pennywise begins to disrupt their unfairly depressing lives. As a result, they need each other to get from one day to the next, and the strength they have together allows them to be a formidable force against Pennywise. Muschietti’s attention to these kids’ struggles makes this film very effective as we come to care for them deeply, and this makes their stand against this homicidal clown all the more involving.

Speaking of Pennywise, Bill Skarsgard makes him into the freakiest clown and scarier than any clown Rod Zombie could come up with. Whereas Tim Curry’s Pennywise was at first approachable and then murderous, Skarsgard’s is vicious right from the get go whether the kids realize it or not. Even before those set of jaws come out, Skarsgard more than reminds the audience of how clowns have always been creepy, and he makes Pennywise into the clown who gleefully inhabits all our nightmares.

So where do I rank this particular Stephen King adaptation among the many already unleashed on the public? Hard to say. It is easily one of the best King adaptations in a while, but it is not as scary as “The Shining” or “Carrie.” This is not a motion picture filled with jump scares every 5 minutes as Muschietti is more in creating something which is infinitely chilling and suspenseful. What results is a highly entertaining movie which never feels like a simple remake of the miniseries. He is also blessed with a terrific cast of actors who are not afraid to embrace the depressing natures of their characters. I just hope none of them have to deal with this shit in real life.

I’m also thrilled no one tried to fit the whole book into one movie. There’s no way you could have done that without messing everything up. There was already talk of a sequel long before this movie even opened, and this is a sequel I am more eager to see than any “Star Wars” movie which has yet to be released. It’ll be interesting to see how The Losers’ Club will transition from childhood to adulthood as they attempt to put the past behind them. But as Peter Gabriel once sang, “Nothing fades as fast the future. Nothing clings like the past.”

* * * ½ out of * * * *

No, I Haven’t Seen It Until Now: ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre poster

Tobe Hooper’s “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is a movie I had heard a lot about over the years, and I have watched numerous documentaries about its making to where it felt like I had seen it even though I had not. It wouldn’t be until the year 2000, just after I graduated from college, when I sat down to watch it on my new 27-inch JVC television set. I just started my subscription with Netflix, and this was one of the first movies I rented from it.

“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” came out in 1974, so I went into it thinking there was no way it could be as horrifying now as it was when first released. I sat down in front of my TV prepared to eat my dinner, a Cedarline Mediterranean Stuffed Focaccia, while watching this horror classic. One of the first images, however, was of a pair of rotting corpses draped over a gravestone in a cemetery, and I decided it would be better to turn off the TV and finish my dinner before continuing. Once I was done and tossed my plate into the dishwasher, I turned the set back on and continued watching, believing it would be a piece of cake to sit through this lauded horror classic.

It has now been over 40 years since the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” was unleashed on the world, but when I watched it on DVD, I had no idea it would prove to be one of the most unnerving and brutal motion pictures I ever sat through. I figured no movie going experience would ever be more intense than “Requiem for a Dream” was when I saw it in Hollywood with a sold-out audience, but then I watched Hooper’s horrifying masterpiece. After it was over, I wondered to myself if I could have possibly endured this film had I first watched it on the silver screen.

“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” opens with a crawl, narrated by John Larroquette, stating it is based on a true story, but it turns out this was not the case. However, certain plot elements were inspired by serial killer Ed Gein whose acts of violence came to inform many other movies including Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” We are introduced to a group of two siblings and three of their friends as they travel out to Texas to visit the grave of their grandparents. As you can imagine, what they discover far surpasses any imagined fears anyone could have endured when they were young.

I knew I was in trouble when this group of kids picked up a hitchhiker (played by Edwin Neal). This guy looked like he hadn’t showered in weeks as his face and hair seemed much slimier than anyone else’s on planet Earth. Seeing him cut himself and one of the kids had my hair standing on end, and this was just the beginning. The horror this movie had to offer was just starting, and the intensity would only increase exponentially from there.

By the time everyone got to the house, I was already sweating. I hadn’t seen the movie, but I already knew what was coming. People don’t just die a horrible death in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” they die a realistic one. When Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) smashes one guy on the head with a hammer, the guy falls down and convulses horribly. Watching this sequence, I felt this is the way a person would react if bashed in the head with the hammer, and it showed me this would not be your average horror movie in the slightest.

What’s especially surprising about this film is it’s not as bloody or gory as you might expect. I figured there would be an ocean of blood on display, but instead it’s what I didn’t see which really messed with my head. We see Leatherface impale the beautiful Pam (Teri McMinn) on a meat hook, but we never see the hook go into her body. The expression you see on Pam’s face ends up feeling all the more unbearably real as a result because you can’t help but wonder how the hook went in and of how long she could hope to last before all her blood drained out.

In some ways, the powerful effect “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” gives off was something of an accident. When making this movie, Hooper was aiming for a PG-rating and even talked with members of the MPAA to find out how he could earn such a rating for a horror film like this one. A lot of the advice het got was to not show any body penetration or the chainsaw slicing into human flesh, and of course, he needed to limit the amount of blood shown. But instead of getting the PG-rating, Hooper saw his film get an X as these guides he was given proved to have the opposite effect. The fact it managed to get an R seems astonishing even by today’s standards. Still, this seems as welcome an accident as the shark not working on the set of “Jaws” was.

This could have been nothing more than a mere horror flick of the exploitation kind, but there really is a lot of artistry on display throughout. The acting all around is never weak, cinematographer Daniel Pearl gives everything a dirty look which will make you want to take a shower quickly after this movie’s conclusion, and the sound design makes you feel like you are in a real-life slaughterhouse. Hooper may have had a simple mission in mind while making this horror classic, but it turned into something far scarier than he ever intended.

Leatherface remains one of the scariest villains any horror movie could ever hope to have, and it’s a real shame this was the only time Gunnar Hansen played this iconic character as he brought a lot of thought and an instinctual energy to the role. Seeing him wander around in that human flesh-made mask of his, I started to fear what Leatherface looked like without the mask.

But while I want to give credit to all the other actors, I have to single out Marilyn Burns who plays Sally Hardesty. While she has an easy time during the movie’s first half, the last half has her screaming endlessly to where you want to see her get a Purple Heart instead of an Academy Award for her work. She screams and screams and screams to where I wondered just how tortured she felt throughout shooting. The closeup of her eyes while she is a guest at the most devilish of family dinners had me staring at the screen in utter horror. Even though I knew exactly how this movie would end, I was still gripped as I became desperate for Sally to escape any and every which way she could.

The movie’s last half is a frenzy to where I wondered how I could have survived this had I first watched it on the silver screen. Watching it on my television set with the volume turned down was hard enough as I wanted Sally’s hellish experience to end sooner rather than later, but her torture dragged on longer to where I refused to believe “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is a mere 84 minutes long. When the screen finally went to black, it felt like such a welcome relief as I wondered just how much more I could have sat through had Hooper extended things out to two hours.

“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” has long since earned its place alongside the greatest horror movies ever made, and the fact it hasn’t lost any of its power to unnerve and horrify the bravest of film buffs speaks to a power most filmmakers hope to have in their lifetime. The only other horror movies which equal this one’s power to terrify decades after their release are John Carpenter’s “Halloween” and William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist.” Some horror movies play better on the big screen than on television, but this one proves to be every bit as effective on both.

I still have yet to watch any of the sequels as I feel like I am still recovering from this cinematic experience over 10 years later. I did watch the Platinum Dunes remake, but the only thing about it which truly unnerved me was when Leatherface took off Eric Balfour’s face and made it into a mask for himself. As I write this review, the prequel “Leatherface” is about to released in theatres everywhere. Filmmakers can only hope to equal Hooper’s film, but it hasn’t stopped them from trying.

* * * * out of * * * *

The First Trailer for ‘It’ Floats to the Surface

It teaser poster

I count Stephen King’s “It” as one of my all-time favorite novels, and I very much enjoyed the 1990 miniseries based on it, and that’s even though the ending was incredibly disappointing. Now, after many false starts which saw actors and directors come and go from the project, “It” is finally making its way to the silver screen courtesy of Warner Brothers and New Line Cinema, and now we the first trailer for the film.

After watching this trailer several times, my interest in this new adaptation has tripled. Pennywise the Clown, this time portrayed by one of the many actors from the Skarsgard family, Bill Skarsgard, comes across as far more lethal than the one Tim Curry gave us, and seeing Pennywise leap out at us in the trailer’s final moments has me believing anyone with a clown phobia should seriously consider not seeing this movie. We never get to see all of Pennywise here, and he is instead shown through quick flashes throughout, but it’s enough to send a chill down my spine.

The cast of actors is led by Jaeden Lieberher, who left a strong impression on audiences with his performances in “St. Vincent” and “Midnight Special,” who plays Bill Denbrough, the leader of the Loser’s Club who vows revenge against Pennywise for murdering his little brother Georgie. It’s hard not to be reminded of the Netflix series “Stranger Things” while watching these young actors as they too are on a mission to find out what evil lurks in the underbelly of their hometown of Derry, Maine. The story has also been moved up from the 1950’s to the 1980’s (the slide projector is a dead giveaway), so the filmmakers look to be playing on our collective nostalgia which should make this movie extra fun.

Cary Fukunaga was set to direct this adaptation, but although he eventually dropped out due to those “creative differences” filmmakers just love to throw out there, he is still listed in the credits as one of the screenwriters. Directing “It” is Andrés Muschietti who previously directed Jessica Chastain in the box office hit “Mama.” From this trailer, it looks like he is having lots of fun exploring the many ways Pennywise terrorizes the young children of Derry, Maine as he gets at their deepest fears and exploits them for all they are worth. My hope is he focuses on the characters of King’s classic novel as well as on the scares. One thing’s for sure, he certainly knows how to make a red balloon look especially ominous.

“It” is clearly covering the first part of King’s novel when the members of the Loser’s Club were kids. Here’s hoping this adaptation scares us silly enough to where we get follow-up which will follow them into adulthood as we all know the past stays with us in one way or another. Adaptations of King’s novels range from brilliant (“The Shining,” “Misery,” “The Shawshank Redemption”) to horrendous (“Maximum Overdrive,” “Graveyard Shift”), so let’s hope this is not just one of the better ones, but one of the best.

Check out the teaser trailer below.

 

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 Dream Warriors poster

“Sleep

Those little slices of Death

How I loathe them.”

-Edgar Allan Poe

As soon as you see the above quote which opens “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors,” you know Wes Craven is back on board in some capacity. After directing the original, one of the all-time great horror classics, he bailed out of the first sequel which he felt betrayed the logic of Freddy Krueger’s character and how he existed in the realm of dreams. This third entry ended up defining the look of the rest of the series until “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” came along. This one brought forth a Freddy who, while still scary, was more of a stand-up comic with one-liners flying out from his charred face in rapid succession.

“A Nightmare on Elm Street 3” starts off with the character of Kristen Parker (Patricia Arquette, in her film debut) having the first of many nightmares. Freddy’s attack on her is made to look like she tried to commit suicide, and it gets her thrown into a psychiatric hospital with others suffering from serious mental health issues. Of course, when doctors try to give her a sedative to help her sleep, she naturally freaks out and grabs a knife to fight off those who don’t have a clue as to what she’s really up against. This is where she meets up with Nancy Thompson, played once again by Heather Langenkamp.

We learn Nancy has since gone to graduate school where she studied extensively about the nature of dreams. Here she gets assigned to this psychiatric ward where young teenagers are being stalked by the man with razors for fingers. They are being cared for by Dr. Neil Gordon (Craig Wasson) who has long since gained their trust, but he has yet to realize how he can really help them. Nancy sees right away it has everything to do with Freddy, and when she shares this information with the kids they stand at attention and are shocked to realize they have all been dreaming about the same person.

With a budget of around $5 million dollars, the special effects are more impressive than you would expect them to be. It’s always a gas to see what people can do with very little money. There’s one great effect where Freddy comes to life as a marionette, and he immediately returns the favor to its creator by pulling out the veins in his arms to use as strings. Ouch! The sets never reek of cheapness, and the imagination put into this movie is always on display as we see the dreams of the different characters and the forms they each take.

Bringing Craven back to help write the screenplay was a smart move, and he changes the formula to keep it from being just another single kid being chased by Freddy. Also, these kids fight back to stay alive and prepare themselves a lot quicker than the others did in the previous films. One of the screenwriters on “Dream Warriors” is Frank Darabont who later made one of the greatest movies ever, “The Shawshank Redemption.” There is a good amount of work done with the characters here to where they are not your usual one-dimensional horny teenagers which make up the average “Friday the 13th” movie.

The movie also digs deeper into Freddy’s past to make us see how he came to be. Before this film, we knew he was a child murderer who was brought to court but got off on a technicality, and he was later burned by the parents of the town. Dr. Neil Gordon is visited by a mysterious nun who informs him Freddy’s mother, Amanda, was accidentally locked in an insane asylum with the most mentally unstable people one could ever find, or hope to avoid, on the face of the earth. Amanda was raped over and over, and this led to the conception of Freddy who, as the nun puts it, is “the bastard son of a hundred maniacs!” This would make a great title for a movie.

Unlike other horror movies, you care about the characters and what happens to them. Most of these slasher movies have stock characters you hate and root for to die. In all fairness, it makes watching them more fun to watch in a theater, but here the characters, while dealing with obvious stereotypes, are interesting in their own way. Some are geekier than others (don’t get me started on the “Wizard Master”), but they are more real than your average teenagers dealing with ballistic hormones.

“Dream Warriors” is also proof of how wet dreams never end the way we want them to. One of the characters has an understandable crush on a nurse, and he ends up getting seduced by her. Some people get so lucky, but not this kid. What happens to him gives new meaning to the term “tongue-tied.”

Also in the cast is Laurence Fishburne who did this movie before “Boyz N the Hood.” He plays male nurse Max who is one of the more down to earth characters you could ever hope to find in a horror movie. The great John Saxon also returns as Nancy’s father, Lt. Donald Thompson. His character figures prominently in the film’s climax as they find that the only way to defeat Freddy is by burying his remains in consecrated grounds.

It’s hard to believe this was Patricia Arquette’s first film. She has since gone on to a successful career and appeared in great movies like “True Romance,” David Lynch’s “Lost Highway” and “Boyhood” which won her the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. She creates one of the more sympathetic heroines in a horror movie who has a mother that, of course, does not understand what her daughter is actually going through. No one does initially, but if they did, there wouldn’t be a movie.

And, of course, we have Robert Englund returning as Freddy. In many ways, this was the last “Nightmare” movie where Freddy felt like a truly threatening presence. Just the thought of him was scary, and you didn’t need to show much of him to prove that. After this movie, he became more of a standup comedian than anything else. We had to wait until “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” for him to come across as a viciously scary presence again. Still, Englund embodies this character in a way no one else could.

While Freddy ended up having an artistic downslide from here, “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors” is still one of the best movies in this long-running franchise, and it’s always fun to revisit this entry whenever it is showing on cable.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

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