The Invisible Issue: A Look at The Invisible War

I don’t know why I watch so few documentaries each year.  I love learning, and the great thing about most documentaries I do watch is that they cover people or issues I normally wouldn’t go out of my way to learn about.   And this doesn’t mean that I’m not interested in the subject.

Take, for example, one of my favorite documentaries of recent years, The Interrupters.  The film explored violence in the Chicago area and a group determined to eradicate the increasing reports of homicides.  It’s a subject that, when I heard there was a documentary about it, I was intrigued and ready to watch.  But I probably would not have studied the subject otherwise.

I recently watched another documentary that fits this example:  The Invisible War.  The film is about rape in the military.  I made my top films of 2012 list prior to seeing this one, but it definitely deserves a spot on that list.

The film follows numerous stories of rape, violence, control and cover-ups.  It doesn’t just focus on the circumstances surrounding the rape (though “just” is perhaps a poor word to use here, since these circumstances are terrifying yet need to be discussed more openly); instead, the lives of rape victims long after the horrific incidents are a major part of the story.  From relationship issues (trusting someone after a rape, intimacy difficulties), to insurance issues (one particular ex-military member is unable to receive help with medical bills, specifically bills connected to her rape injuries–she was hit so hard in the jaw that she still has difficulty eating).

While some of the ex-military interviewed in the film warn against women entering any branch of service, it is not an anti-military film.  Neither is the film an uber-feminist, anti-man vehicle.  The rape victims are not limited to women, and there are members of the military who show genuine concern when it comes to this issue.  This film, instead, exposes an issue that, even if there is no military connection, is still a major problem.  Rape victims should not feel afraid to tell people what has happened to them.  Rape victims should never feel like they are somehow to blame.  We need to place the blame on the perpetrator, not the victim.  It doesn’t matter what a person wears, how much they laugh at another person’s jokes, or even if they were sexually involved with a person before.  Everyone has the right to say no, and when that right is taken from them, they deserve justice and understanding.

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She Reads, Too

Over my Christmas Vacation, I watched lots and lots of movies.  I watched a good mix of yearly Christmas must-sees (Christmas Vacation, The HolidayIt’s a Wonderful Life, Ernest Saves Christmas, and the list goes on), award nominees (Silver Linings PlaybookLes MisDjangoAmour), with many first-see-but-not-necessarily-new movies rounding out the binge (Corridors of Blood, The Match Factory Girl, Eating RaoulMy Life as a Dog).

By the time school started, I was a bit burned out on my movie binge, and I was finally in the mood to read again (the first time I’ve really wanted to read more than one book in a period of six months since grad school ended in 2009).  So this year I’ve finished 3 books and am past the halfway point of book 4.  But, unlike my film viewing which is often varied, there’s one very strong connection of all 4 books:  They’re all books written by Stephen King.  So, as part of Flim Flam Film Talk, I’ll now sometimes discuss my thoughts on the books I’m reading.  This entry will not be too far off the original viewpoint of Flim Flam, as I’m discussing both a film and a book.

The Shining:  I’m putting this one first for a few reasons.  It wasn’t the first of his books I finished this year, but it was the one I finished both the fastest and the slowest.  How??  Magic??  No, more like my previous book-reading resistance, paired with my new book-reading delight, merged and I finally finished a book I started–wait for it—in 2010.  I had reached the part where Jack was going through his own binge (lots of alcohol), partying it up with some old-time ghosts, and enjoying some spooky chats with the bartender and Grady.  It was just about time for Halloran to arrive.  I didn’t have, I’d say, more than 150 pages to go, but for some reason (I’ll continue to blame grad school) I stopped, and didn’t decide to finish it until this year.

Typically, if it’s been more than a year since I’ve started a book (which is a rare case anyway) I will begin again from page 1.  But I remembered enough of the narrative, and when I picked up the book and began reading from where I’d stopped years ago, it felt “right,” so I felt very justified in completing the book without starting over.

Another reason I picked this one first is the continuing debate over whether King’s original vision or Kubrick’s film is the best version.  I’ll offer my brief comparison of some key points, but note that from here until the end of this post, there are likely to be spoilers.

Round 1:  Jack

In King’s book, much more of Jack’s past is revealed, including his own abusive past, and his struggle with alcoholism.  It seems that when Jack enters the hotel, he knows this is either the building that will free him from his past, or the one that will complete his transformation into his father.  I can imagine his colleagues would view him as smart but troubled, but they didn’t notice the trouble immediately.  It takes time for most to realize Jack isn’t all right.

In Kubrick’s film, Jack seems pretty creepy from the beginning.  That he is troubled is never in question.  But casting Jack Nicholson probably didn’t help create a more subtle interpretation of the character.

Winner of Round 1:  I appreciate both characters in both mediums.  King’s Jack works because the audience is allowed to see his darkness slowly consume him over hundreds of pages.

Kubrick’s Jack works for a film version, and I can’t imagine anyone but Nicholson playing him in a film, a medium where we have to get a bad feeling about Jack early on, and he can’t take too much time in going off the deep end.  (and while I’ve never seen the more recent mini-series, I think Steven Weber corresponds more with King’s Jack, and he certainly has more time to develop, just as he did in the novel.)

Round 2:  The Backstory

Again, as King is writing a longer novel, he has time to develop a backstory that Kubrick can only hint at at times.  Wasp’s nests, Halloran’s life, a scrapbook, and settling into the hotel prior to the snow are all developed more in the book, and some of these things are only featured there.

Winner of Round 2:  Again, this has to be a tie.  Since King is given more time to develop the story, he uses it wisely.  But I feel that Kubrick did his share to let the audience know there was a long history to both the Torrance family’s troubles and the hauntingly eerie story of the hotel.  I don’t think anyone who watched his version of the film assumed that everything coincidentally just happened that one winter.

Round 3:  The Haunting and Fall of The Overlook

There are a lot of similarities between the haunting activity shown in the film and book (the creepy lady in the mysterious room, the ghosts Jack converses with).  But who knew that use of shrubbery would be the point I’d like to discuss.

In Kubrick’s film, it is the plant-covered maze that is used to create a feeling of fear (who didn’t get major chills when the miniature version of the maze is revealed to have a miniature Danny and Wendy happily exploring its twists and turns??), and it serves as Jack’s final undoing in one of my favorite film endings.  Injured, and now raving mad, Jack attempts to find Danny in the maze, its footpaths now covered in layers of snow and ice.  Danny realizes Jack can easily follow his footsteps, so he tricks him by backtracking, causing Jack to get lost, and ending in a close-up of Jack’s frozen, yet still maniacal face.

In King’s book, the star shrubbery is a series of hedges and bushes carved out to create a plant menagerie.  The hedge animals end up coming to life (or do they??) and the animated creatures are used to scare both readers and characters.  Jack is not gobbled up by one of the creatures, though.  Instead of dying in the frozen maze, Jack is engulfed in a fiery explosion, one that demolishes the hotel.

Round 3:  Man oh man.  Judging these endings, to me, is again like judging apples and oranges.  Both are so good but so different.  I think Kubrick’s supplies the viewer with a (pun inevitable) chilling image.  And, it’s fitting that Jack’s face is one of the last to be seen (both in the frozen maze and, back in the Overlook, his beaming face is seen in one of the pictures).  Such a great ending!

But King’s version makes so much sense, and leaves me feeling better.  In Kubrick’s version, it’s as if Jack gets some great life after death, now taking his place as one of the Grady’s of the hotel.  It also suggests that the hotel will continue to claim lives.  In King’s version, there is great resolution, as Jack is destroyed with the hotel that destroyed him, and there is more of a chance for hope, something that the reader needs to feel after experiencing the sadness and pain of Jack’s life and the hotel.

Round 4:  Halloran

Don’t get me wrong, there are differences found in Danny and Wendy, but I have got to talk about Halloran!  When I was a wee little lass, Halloran was my favorite person ever.  No joke.  I loved his character for many reasons, and every time I watched the film I secretly hoped the one difference would be Halloran’s fate.  I think I was a pretty perceptive child, and I remember feeling outrage when watching Halloran get axed by Jack.   It wasn’t just that he was my favorite character who died a particularly brutal death.  I mean, I didn’t have a problem watching Old Yeller or A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 (ok, ok, these upset me, but I mostly accepted the fates of Yeller and Nancy, and I certainly saw them coming).  I just never understood why Halloran was such a major presence early in the film when the Overlook was not yet closed, briefly shown having a “shining” moment when he realized he had to save Danny and Wendy, and then, after trekking from his warm Florida hotel room to the snowed in Colorado hotel, he spends about ten seconds in the building before Jack kills him.

What??!!??!!  Why even bother bringing him back, if he does absolutely nothing more than distract Jack for ten seconds??

So, you can imagine the anger that swelled in me as I read the novel.  Halloran’s storyline is much more prevalent.  His connection to Danny, and the connection between all people with the shining is given more acknowledgment.  His past is developed.  And his character is a larger part of King’s world. (As many King fans know, most of his novels have some connection, and Halloran is a key part in a backstory presented in the novel It.)  The more time King developed Halloran’s story, the angrier I got.  Sure, the death of Halloran in Kubrick’s version was bad, but now that I was really investing in his character, I was dreading his death even more.

When his character reaches the Overlook (a more arduous, and ultimately richer journey than the one shown in the film), and Jack attacks him (though it wasn’t with an ax), I was devastated.  It was as if I was learning of his death for the first time, except worse since the character was no longer just a groovy cat in a small cast, but a key character who felt like a friend.

So, my friends, you can only imagine my surprise and extreme delight when it is revealed that Jack’s attack did not result in Halloran’s death.  In King’s novel, Halloran lives.  He lives!! And he remains a part of Danny and Wendy’s life long after the ashes of Jack and the Overlook are gone (at least, this is my knowledge of the events as of this writing.  Who knows if any new information on Halloran will surface in Dr. Sleep.—And if King himself were writing this blog, his answer would be, “The Shadow knows.”)

So, in this round, the winner is clearly Stephen King.  The winner is books.  The winner, my friends, is Dick Halloran.

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Can You Tell Me How To Get To Chameleon Street??

Film:  Chameleon Street

Year: 1989

Written by, Directed by and Starring:  Wendell B Harris Jr.

Also Starring:  Anita Gordon, Angela Leslie and Timothy Alvaro.

Just one of the many faces of William.

 

 

Last year I created a list dedicated to one of my favorite movie themes:  identity.  It is a theme that is present in most films, to varying degrees, but my list focused on films that dealt mostly with the subject or looked at identity in a unique way (such as the always intriguing Koyaanisqatsi).

After posting the list, a friend suggested I watch Chameleon Street, a film he thought was a severely overlooked masterpiece.  He was right!!  Not only did its theme and approach fit perfectly in my list, but the film itself is simply an amazing piece of cinema.

In it, Wendell B. Harris Jr. plays William Douglas Street, a man who is unhappy in most aspects of his life, but who has a smooth voice that can be commanding or sympathetic, a charming way about him, and the ability to quickly adapt to his surroundings.

In order to obtain more money, and do something different (and perhaps, if miracles do exist, please his wife), though he has no college education, he finds a job as a reporter, a lawyer a doctor and in between spends some time at Yale (oh, and in prison, too).  He floats from one identity to the next, only changing when necessary.

Doctor for a day (or at least a few hysterectomies).

My favorite sequence of his life comes during his time at Yale.  After an afternoon in the library (which includes my favorite scene in the film–a young student sits amid the typical library study group, except he wears a white mask, and as William walks by he remarks “Jason Goes to Yale”), William decides to take on the persona of a foreign exchange student, one whose first language is French.  Two other students are assigned to converse with him, but they don’t know enough to realize his rambling in French is just that, rambling.  So as he spouts things like, “J’accuse Jacques Brel. J’accuse Jacques Cousteau. J’accuse Jacques Strap. J’accuse Jacuzzi,” the two women are only able to respond, “Oui.”

William also watches a lot of French films and listens to Edith Piaf’s music as well as interviews from her.  One particular film he watches is Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et La Bette, which is one of my favorites, and also lends itself to a perfect culmination of his collegiate career at a costume ball.

La Belle et La Bette

As William changes identities, he is constantly reminding the audience, who is apt to judge him for deceiving so many, that we all try to deceive in some way.  We are all pretending we are something, even in the seemingly smallest way, that we are not.  And for what reason??  I will end with a quote from William that sums up much of the film, and urge all of you to watch this film that is asking us all to reevaluate who we are, who are the people we know, who do we want to be, and, most importantly, who can we convince others that we are.  Oh, and do me a favor.  If you read this post and thought, “Hey, I’ve seen this movie, it’s called Catch Me if You Can,”  cry a little bit for me.

“It amazes me that whites avidly seek after all the accoutrements of black style. You pickle your bodies in gallons of tanning lotion, you broil your pale flesh brown in the tanning spas at great expense and all the while maintaining such a marvelous contempt for black people. You wily Caucasians.”

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An Argument for Going to Space

One of the lists I created this year over on mubi.com is titled “A Change of Scenery:  Horror Franchises Strike Back.”  This list was inspired by a conversation during Half Halloween (six months after actual Halloween, when some Mubi members decided to watch the entire Hellraiser series).

Hellraiser in space 4

The Hellraiser films began as a story about two worlds:  Hell and Earth (and suggested both worlds are equally terrifying).  As the series progressed, so did locations.  While Hell remained a constant, Earthly locations changed (for example, the most current film in the series partly takes place in Mexico).  But what gained the most discussion was Hellraiser IV:  Bloodline, a film that takes place in three different settings—most notably in space.
Hellraiser‘s attempt to keep the series going through a change in setting was not a first for horror franchises, so I compiled a list of other horror franchises that used the same approach.
The list was incredibly fun to make, but it also got me thinking about these grand changes in setting more critically.  After three or four films, most horror franchises attempt something different.  A Nightmare on Elm Street:  The Dream Child  (part five of the series) switched up the narrative by allowing Freddy to kill when an unborn baby was sleeping (basically allowing him to strike at any time, even if his victim was wide awake).  One of the most famous change-ups has to be Halloween III:  Season of the Witch, which eliminated the silent antagonist, Michael Myers, and replaced him with a sadistic company killing consumers through evil masks.

Happy Days Jumping the Shark
These shake-ups in film series are often marked as “jump-the-shark” moments.  But that term, to me, is synonymous with desperation.  Thinking back to the show that started the phrase, Happy Days, I am reminded of a dying series.  Most of the characters were gone.  Fonzie kept getting a little crazier.  Finally, he jumped over sharks in a stunt that symbolized (quite clearly) a show that had long since lost its way.  To say that these horror franchises lost their way seems equally plausible.  After all, how many times can the same bad guy come back from the dead??  How many unsuspecting, drug-infused, sexually deviant teenagers can be killed in Camp Crystal Lake/Springwood, Ohio/Haddonfield, Illinois before audiences say, “Enough Already!”?
While it is often argued that these changes in scenery, characters, or other twists in the narratives are the jumped sharks of these series, these new takes are really homages to the genre, and are made for the people who are still watching after part 75–die-hard horror fans.
Here is my defense for some of the much-maligned shake-ups in horror franchises:

Friday the 13th Part VIII:  Jason Takes Manhattan and Jason X:

Jason Take Manhattan is my favorite of the Friday the 13th series.  Jason X is the favorite of Kane Hodder–the actor who’s currently played Jason the most times.  I think Kane and I are on to something.  This series tried long before part 8 to do something different, but 8 gets it right.  This film is the perfect mix of everything expected from the series–Jason killing unsuspecting teens, the two-for-one murder of post-coital lovers, a female protagonist too innocent to die–but gives it enough of a twist to make it new and exciting.  The film starts near Crystal Lake.  This simple establishing scene is a reassurance to fans that the back story of Jason will not be forgotten.  Jason Voorhees cannot and will not be replaced–he’s just going on a trip.

But instead of creaking cabin doors and cavorting counselors, Jason stalks a party boat full of recent high school graduates, on their way to a weekend of fun in the Big Apple.  It’s just enough of a change to make the series new, without betraying the heart of the series.
I’m assuming Kane Hodder loves Jason X for many of the same reasons.  Again, we get some early dialog that reminds everyone who Jason is, where he came from, and what he’s capable of.  After a fun opening that has Jason up to his old habits, he is cryogenically frozen, only to be discovered hundreds of years later by a crew exploring the now-desolate planet Earth.  While the setting changes in two major ways–time and, literally, space–there are still those wanted, familiar elements of a great Friday the 13th film.  One of the best exhibits of old meets new occurs when the crew attempts to trick Jason.  They use their technology to create a hologram-type scene of a campground.  Jason is back at home, and ready to kill.   Even in this very different future, fans get the chance to see Jason the way they remembered.

Bride of Chucky:

Friday the 13th, Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street all have similar beginnings.  While the antagonists are all different (and I’m talkin’ about Mrs. Voorhees this time, not Jason), the first film in each series attempts horror through very serious means.  Freddy doesn’t start piling on the one-liners until later in the series, Mrs. Voorhees is a mournful mother, and Michael Myers is a human so evil that he began killing without remorse when he was just a child.  The Child’s Play series started out differently.  Sure, Chucky grew more humorous with each installment, but even the first film had a different feel to it than other franchise debuts.  After all, we were dealing with a walking, talking, killing doll.  So the series, very early on, incorporated a more “tounge-in-cheek” over-the-top humor than other franchises of the time.

Taking that level of humor to a new level in Bride of Chucky was exactly where this series needed to go.  Child’s Play is also different because, prior to the two newest installments, there were only three films.  And the series was dormant for a long while.  To resurrect it without completely starting over again (aka reboot) the series changed from being a dramatic horror film with a possessed doll that sometimes jokes, to a series that thrived on jokes, becoming a full-fledged comedic horror film.  Instead of dashes of humor, the series started to resemble Tales From the Crypt where the puns and goofiness are just as important as the horror.  Giving Chucky a bride is one marriage I highly approve of.

The Leprechaun Series:

Leprechaun 4
Speaking of comedy mixed with horror, Warwick Davis has been spouting humorous rhymes and killing in even more humorous ways since the first film (which includes a clever death by pogo stick).  After the second film, the franchise has traveled to Vegas, Space and “The ‘Hood.”  Each film is more over-the-top in humor than the last, and it all works.  Of all these franchises, Leprechaun is the one with the least likely odds to continue.  A murderous leprechaun had to be a tough sell to begin with.  But by never taking itself too seriously, and by placing our favorite killer leprechaun in new settings, this series has achieved a cult status that can’t be ignored.  What’s the best way to continue a concept that was already a risk?  Taking more risks.  If Leprechaun 3 kept the narrative at the old farm house, then people would still likely be talking about only one film in the series:  the original.  Conversations would focus not on the great Warwick Davis, but on the young Jennifer Aniston.  The only thing people would talk about was the fact that a pre-Friends Aniston appeared in the film wearing goofy ’90s clothing.  The shake-up in location, after location, after location, is what kept fans coming back for more.

 

If you’re curious to know my take on Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, the film was a feature here at flim flam film talk earlier this year.

airplane map

Whenever a horror franchise promises an origin story, or a journey to space, I don’t wince; instead, I look at these changes as a chance to do something new and exciting.  They don’t always work, but I urge horror fans to not scoff at the ideas.   When Happy Days jumped the shark, the now-infamous episode was pleading for its dwindling audience to keep tuning in.  It was an obvious last-ditch effort to keep a series from flatlining.  Some horror franchises make the same desperate plea, but that is not always the case.  Often, when horror franchises create these new settings and shifts in narrative, they are doing so for the people still watching, the people who are gladly still watching as long as the series never strays too far from the source material.  Rather than jumping the shark, these series are often feeding the sharks–the hungry fans who just can’t part with their favorite horror villains.  Give these changes a chance.  You might just be surprised.

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Fall Movies, Coming ’round the Bend

Posts will be few and far between over the next few months.  With an incredibly chaotic work schedule, I’ve found little time to write for fun.  But since it’s nearly fall, I thought I’d take the time to 1.  Say hello, friends!  Hope to catch up with you all soon, and my apologies if my comments on posts also become infrequent for the rest of the year  2.  Take a little time to at least post about what I’m looking forward to before I do my annual best-of list.

 

Summer movie season is my boyfriend’s time.  He loves films with explosions, action heroes, super heroes, all the popcorn films that fuel the box office.  When fall rolls around, I get excited about all of the Oscar bait films, and since October, November and December are in the mix, there’s often some fun horror films and holiday movies to look forward to.  My boyfriend and I made a deal the first year we were together:  Prior to the summer, he makes a list of all the films he wants to see in theatres, and then I’ll accompany him to the films, but he pays for the date.  In the fall, I make the list and I do the paying (though my birthday is in the fall, so I get a freebie then, too!!).

So here are the films I’ll be paying double for, and for extra fun, I’ll put a number of * from 1-5 guessing how likely it is that my boyfriend will get to use his favorite word, pretentious, when critiquing the movie.  (1 is the lowest, which means I think he will secretly enjoy the film.)

The Master:  I’m kind of all over the place when it comes to Anderson’s films, but this one looks promising, and it would be nice to see Joaquin taking his talent seriously again.  ****

House at the End of the Street:  I’m expecting to be disappointed, but I still love the promise of a good horror film, and I really like Jennifer Lawrence, so fingers crossed.  Added bonus: the bf won’t call it pretentious at all!!

Hotel Transylvania: I’ve always loved horror mixing with comedy or animation, and I think the whole family can enjoy this one.  Added bonus: the bf won’t call it pretentious at all!!

Won’t Back Down:  Any movie about education, down-on-their luck parents fighting for education, or featuring Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhal would interest me.  This one really interests me.  **

Frankenweenie:  Another one for the whole family.  * (he’s already scoffed at the Black and White aspect)
The Paperboy:  I changed my mind about seeing this one after I realized there are far worse actors out there to avoid than poor Zac Efron.  ***

Sinister:  I don’t particularly like Ethan Hawke.  But it’s supposed to be scary, so I’ll bite.

Wuthering Heights:  The bf might dodge a bullet here.  I doubt it will play by us, and if so, it will probably play at the one theatre we rarely go to. Still, I love Andrea Arnold, so much so that I’m willing to see her take on a novel I really didn’t enjoy.  ***

Argo:  I like how the trailers are put together for this film, but I’m still thinking it might get too heavy-handed for me.  **

Seven Psychopaths:  I thought the trailer looked funny.  A quirky movie that I can have fun watching.  And I loved In Bruges and  I love Colin F.  But the bf is already rolling his eyes.  ****

Paranormal Activity 4:  By now, I kind of know what to expect (by 30 minutes into part 1 I kind of knew what to expect), but I don’t care.  I still find these films highly entertaining, and am willing to see one more.  Added bonus, the bf hasn’t seen any of these films, so horror marathon time!!  And no *

Alex Cross:  Wait a minute.  Wait a minute.  What’s going on here??  Well, my mom is in love with Alex Cross and I’ll take her to see this one.  Because I’m a good daughter.
The Sessions:  Murray’s Oscar isn’t a sure thing, and John Hawkes might be the one stealing it from him.  Which I could deal with.  (Also, it’d be like a battle of polio on Oscar night.)  And it’d be nice to see Helen Hunt again, after all these years. ***

Jack and Diane:  I’m really not sure what to expect here, but it piqued my interest enough.  Will it be completely dramatic?  A little scary?  A love story?  I dunno.  *****

This Must be the Place:  I’m not sure if this movie will be good or just a train wreck.  But I just needed one picture of Sean Penn’s character to get me interested.

Anna Karenina:  I honestly am not too hyped about this one, but it will probably score some Oscar nods, at least in costume design, art design, maybe one for our lead actress, and I’ve heard it’s a solid adaptation.  ***

Silent Night:  I’m not really sure if there’s a better combo than Christmas horror movie.  This quasi- remake of Silent Night, Deadly Night can be nothing but bad–in a good way.

Hyde Park on Hudson:  Interest in overall plot:  75%.  Interest in seeing Bill Murray collect an Oscar:  100%  *  (and honestly, it only gets the one asterisk because, just like with Christopher Walken, my bf thinks any film post 1997 that features Bill Murray earns an instant mark of pretentious)

Les MiserablesI’ve never seen a musical version of Les Mis, believe it or not.  I’ve only seen the 1935 version starring Fredric March and Charles Laughton.  Interested in some of the casting as well.  And the singing is live??  *****  Until I mention the live singing thing.  Then:  **********************

D’jango Unchained:  Say what you want about QT.  I love him.  Love him, love him.  Like, I would totally let him put a picture of my feet in one of his movies for free.  They’re a size 3, Mr. Tarantino, if you’re interested.  Oh, and I love Jamie Foxx.  Oh, and I hate Leo, and since he’s the bad guy and I’m supposed to hate him, I’ll really be happy.  ***

Amour:  Haneke is another hit-or-miss auteur for me, but Isabelle Hupert is typically hit, even in mediocre films.  ***********  (the bf is sooooo lucky this one will probably never play here)

Therese:  Elizabeth Olsen as Therese Raquin??  Yes, please.  *****

 

Guilty pleasure of the season:  Here Comes the Boom.  When did Salma Hayek become part of this group??  Not complaining.  Don’t judge me for paying to see this.  Guess what, I also own Paul Blart.  So there’s that.

 

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New Post at Horror Corner

Jog on over to the Horror Corner page for a fun new post.  Here’s a quick look:

Cleaning House, Simplifying History:  Why the remake of The Stepford Wives is the scarier film

I don’t typically cringe when remakes come around (which has kept me from looking like I’m in a perpetual state of agony this past ten years).  So when the remake of The Stepford Wives came out, I didn’t run for the hills.  But I should have.

Interested??  Then get over to Horror Corner now!!

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Reformatting Part 2

With help from fellow blogger Chandler Swain, I’ve been adding some extra information in the margins of my pages.  I’ve also committed to posting more than once every few months.  And now, I’m finally going to better organize my pages.  As of this moment, everything that has currently been posted will stay where it is, even if it doesn’t necessarily fit (meaning the main page, Flim Flam Film Talk, will still have a bajillion random posts).  But from this date forward, I will try posting articles to their proper pages.  For example, films that I consider part of the Dieffenbach files will now be posted on that page, rather than on the main page bearing only a header with the Dieffenbach name.

 

Make sense??  Sound good??  New posts coming very soon!!

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A Birthday Celebration to Die For

Freddy, Michael, Jason, the ’80s were filled with slasher films featuring masked villains, often supernatural, stalking and killing a group of sexually needy teens.  Once the major franchises started expanding in numbers, the formula killer+unaware teens was repeated to varying degrees of success.  One of the films spawned from this era is Happy Birthday to Me, which takes the basics of the formula and adds a few twists and turns to create a fun  film.

Film:  Happy Birthday to Me

Directed by:  J. Lee Thompson

Year:  1981

Starring:  Melissa Sue Anderson, Glenn Ford, Lawrence Dane

 

Best Death:   A romantic date leads to a new use for a Shish-kabob skewer.

 

The opening sequence sets the mood for the rest of the film.  A group of school friends seem to have the whole world ahead of them.  They are enjoying life, having a few drinks, and have few cares.  But on her way home, one of the friends ends up meeting her demise at the hands of the killer.  Unlike some franchises, this killer didn’t wear a mask, so the camera is careful to focus mainly on the victim.

The audience is soon introduced to Virginia, and it is clear she’s being established as the film’s heroine.  Most of her friends are featured in their death scenes, but her character is the only one we really get to know.  One thing we learn is that she and her mother were once involved in a horrific accident, one that killed her mother and left Virginia with deepemotional scars.  The audience is also shown flashbacks of Virginia post-accident, and we learn that she underwent many surgeries to help her recover from the tragedy.  The audience is meant to root for her and feel sorry for her troubled past.

 

If Happy Birthday to Me stayed on a typical path, Virginia would continue to grow afraid as evidence began to suggest something was going terribly wrong.  But this film has a great twist, one not shown at the very end.  After focusing on the victims only during murder scenes, the audience is finally shown the killer in action–and it is Virginia.  The rest of the film showcases an even greater mystery for the audience:  Why is Virginia killing her friends, and how come it genuinely seems that in some scenes she has no clue of her devious actions??

 

I won’t spoil what happens in the last few parts of the film, but I will say the final birthday scene is a classic.  Plus, if you’re a horror enthusiast like me, you like finding a horror film for every holiday, and I can’t think of a better “birthday horror” than this one!!

 

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Grab a banjo and a hot dog and salute Ben Matlock!!

Since I’ve been a film lover before I broke up with Pampers, I am accustomed to getting sad when a loved celebrity dies.  When I learn of a celebrity death, I usually text my mom, text my boyfriend (because for some reason I always learn this news when I’m away from home or home alone), and remark to myself that the passing is sad.  And that’s it.  Maybe, just maybe, if it was one of my favorite celebs I will watch one of their films or listen to one of their songs, something extra to remember them by.

But this week things were different.  This week there was a death that, as strange as it sounds, I’ve been preparing myself for for a long time.  A death that I knew would upset me.   As I sat at work on Tuesday, I received the news that Andy Griffith had died.  One of my first thoughts was, “I have to write a blog in his honor.”  So here it is.

 

If you want to know the names of the women Andy Griffith was married to, or are hoping for a list of his accomplishments as an actor, then go elsewhere.  If you want to know why his death meant so much to me, then pull up a chair and sit for a minute, and please, read on.

To me, it’s weird just typing Andy Griffith.  I read quite a few internet posts regarding his passing, and most of them included mention of The Andy Griffith Show.  But I never watched that show.  Sure, I’ve probably seen an episode or two, but it wasn’t something I grew up on and have fond memories of.  No, that honor goes to that other Andy Griffith show, Matlock.

 

From 1986-1995, Benjamin Matlock solved crimes his way.  He was crabby because he could be, and because he really did have a difficult job.  He was a cheap skate, even though he didn’t need to be.  His face swirled into a painful grimace when the words pro bono were mentioned.  His food of choice wasn’t a fancy meal at an expensive restaurant.  It was hot dogs.  He wore the same type of suit, guaranteed cheap but presentable.  When someone made him mad he didn’t hesitate to call them a jackass.  And if he needed a break from everything he was happy to sit on his porch and play his banjo.

Some of my favorite episodes (spoilers a-plenty):

 

Season 2:  Blind Justice.   This was one of the first times Nancy Stafford’s Michelle Thomas aided Ben in a case, and it was a doozy.  The murderer was a blind man, and his lack of eyesight was supposed to dismiss him as a suspect.  But he didn’t know that Ben and his team leave no wastebasket unturned!!

Season 2:  The Gift.  I always love a good Christmas episode, and this one, featuring a killer Santa Claus, was my favorite of the series.  Bryan Cranston plays the father accused of murdering his estranged wife.  Fortunately for him, silent dogs never lie.

Season 5:  The Madam.  Matlock settles for the nickname Benjy when a madam is accused of the murder of one of her girls.  It features a few scenes of Matlock getting flirted with, and his reactions to the madam’s advances are priceless.

Other favorites that I don’t remember episode names:

A murder case takes Ben and Michelle to a health spa.  Michelle fits right in, enjoying wearing pink sweatsuits, exercising and eating healthy.  Ben doesn’t do quite as well.  If I’m not mistaken, a pair of contacts points Ben to the killer in this episode.

Ben questions the cast and crew of a play in an attempt to clear his client from a murder charge.  In one of my favorite reveals, Ben catches the killer by finding a breakfast receipt. One of my favorite parts of any Matlock episode was the final courtroom scene, when the murderer (and the audience) find out that Matlock knows the truth, and we learn just how he solved the case.  This time, Matlock noticed that two identical breakfasts had been ordered by the deceased on the morning of their murder.  Why would one person order two of the same breakfasts??  Easy, the murderer ordered a second breakfast because he had to throw away the first after his toupee fell into the eggs, toast and jelly.

After a radio dj is murdered, Ben puts on his listening ears to solve the case.  One missing photograph and a thick Arkansas accent are all Ben needed to win this one.

When Ben defends a young photography assistant, clues point to some of the crueller faces in the world of modeling.  The list of suspects includes some mean and snobby people, but the sad truth is that Conrad’s model girlfriend was the culprit.  The sweet girl just made one mistake:  she burned her arm during the struggle and her need to take some cover-up makeup gave her away.

I’ve watched most episodes of Matlock a million and one times.  My favorite years were the middle, when Michelle and Conrad were Ben’s sidekicks.  There are very few episodes of the show I don’t care for, and only one I pretend doesn’t exist (you never die, Bob!!).  Don Knotts’ guest appearances as Les Callhoun, Ben’s hilarious neighbor, were always fun, especially when he went lingerie shopping.

 

It’s a show that brings back lots of good memories, and popping in an episode always brings instant comfort.  And to me, Andy Griffith will always be Benjamin Matlock.

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Worth a Second Shot: July’s First Horror Pick

Horror franchises spawned like a warren of rabbits in the ’80s.  Sure, there had been attempts at horror franchises before, most notably in connection with the famous Universal Monsters, but starting in the late ’70s films like Halloween and Friday the 13th took sequels to a new level (sometimes even to space).  Responses to these franchises varied.  Horror enthusiasts like myself are willing to see just about any sequel to a beloved film, even if the past five attempts at recreating the horror and fun of the first film has never been matched.  Others usually stop at the sequel and will only get around to later films when there’s a marathon on in October.

I will be honest, I often find the first film in these franchises “the best of the bunch.”  But I do have much love for some of the sequels, and sometimes I think these sequels can be used as a great way to reinvigorate a stagnant brand.

The film:  Wes Craven’s New Nightmare  (or just New Nightmare)

Year: 1994

Directed by: Wes Craven

Written by: Wes Craven

Starring:  Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, Miko Hughes, John Saxon

When I first saw the film, I didn’t like it.  I didn’t think it was scary and I didn’t like the “twist” storyline.  But, to be fair, I was twelve when the film was released.  A few years later I watched the film again, and with each subsequent viewing I’ve found a greater appreciation for the film, moving it from my second-to-least favorite film of the series (sorry, part 2) to my favorite of the sequels (sorry, part 3).

And now, in a world where being meta seems to give people a free pass to not try too hard to develop an actual plot, I think it is even more important for horror writers and fans to see what Wes Craven did with this film.  Made in the pre-meta days, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare was the perfect balance of franchise awareness and a good story.

The basic plot:  Heather Langenkamp, the actress who played Nancy in the original ANOES , plays Heather Langenkamp, the actress who played Nancy in the original ANOES. See where I’m going here??  So the film takes place in the “real” world where Heather starts getting the idea that somehow Freddy Krueger, the character played by her friend Robert Englund, is coming to life in the “real” world.

 

And while the film weaves the reality of Heather’s life with the increasing reality of a fantasy character, there is still a plot.  Not long after this film, Craven would direct Scream which goes a step further by constantly referring to things like the “rules” of horror films and films vs. reality.  I enjoy Scream , but I can see where it really opened the floodgates for the meta craze.  But New Nightmare doesn’t have any characters who are too meta for their own good.  Nancy’s characterization is especially good.  She’s shown here as an actress/mother/wife, and her vulnerability and instability in each of those categories is really the driving force behind this film.  If anything, the horror isn’t even the fact that Freddy might actually be killing her friends and family, but that she has somehow gone from teen scream queen to a struggling actress who can’t do a load of laundry in peace.

After (unsucessfully) trying to switch up the first film’s formula in part 2, part 3 gave the series some of their most notable tropes.  Freddy became more “playful” in his kills, often throwing in a joke or two (c’mon, what Krueger fan hasn’t gleefuly mimicked the line “Welcome to primetime, Bitch”??).  Krueger’s kills often become more elaborate and the writers take advantage of the fact that he kills in dreams, so he can do things like suck someone into a comic book or turn an entomophobe into a cockroach before crushing her in a roach hotel.

 

What New Nightmare did was, once again, reinvent the series without resorting to a complete reboot.  It was a fine bookend to the series (hey, I thought Freddy vs. Jason was fun, but I don’t nesessarily count it as part of the series), leaving no need for a reboot in which Krueger would look like The Scarecrow and wouldn’t be played by Robert Englund.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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