Random Warner Bros. – Casablanca

Watching all the movies on the Warner Bros. 50-movie box set that I bought for cheap. This week the random number generator must remember this as it selected Casablanca.

 Here’s what happens: In pre-WWII Morocco, Rick’s Café, run by mystery man Rick Blaine, is the place to be, an international safe (or not-so-safe) haven from the tensions in Europe. Rick gets ahold of some exit visas, and freedom fighter Lazlo wants them. One complication: Lazlo is married to Rick’s ex, Ilsa, who still has feelings for Rick.

 Why it’s famous: Too many reasons to list. As one of the most influential films ever made, its impact on movie history reaches far and wide.

 Get your film degree: Allegedly, this was a studio “assembly line” film, and no one making it expected it to be as big of a hit that it was. How, then, did it become an Oscar-winning classic? Just a case of all the right talent in the right place at the right time, with director, writer, cast and crew bringing out their best.

 Movie geekishness: How about the big scene at the end where Rick and Ilsa say goodbye? It’s a greatest hits of famous, quotable movie lines, one after the next after the next. The dialogue is so classic and so memorable, that I had completely forgot there’s an Old West-style shootout that follows.

 Thoughts upon this viewing: Having familiarized myself with the movie’s twisty-turny plot, this time I went ahead and followed the emotional core of the story, the Rick and Ilsa relationship, which is, I’m guessing, how most folks watch this. I imagine this is the type of movie where there’s something new to discover every time you watch it.

 Next: Ninety percent chance of showers.

****

Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.

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Random Warner Bros. – The Blind Side

Watching all the movies on the Warner Bros. 50-movie box set that I bought for cheap. This week the random number generator bores me to death as it makes me sit through The Blind Side.

Here’s what happens: Loosely based on the life of pro football star Michael Oher, the movie depicts Oher growing up in poverty and struggling at a posh Christian private school. He’s given a new home with well-to-do mom Leigh Anne Thohy and her family, where he learns all about football… and family.

Why it’s famous: After years of being one of the most-liked people in Hollywood, it was about time for Sandra Bullock to get an Oscar. Too bad it was for The Blind Side, and not a good movie.

Get your film degreeThe Blind Side has been oft criticized for being culturally insensitive, and, yeah, I can see that. The movie’s most laughable scene is when the suburban mom has to teach this kid how football is played, all while the kid’s coach is standing right there.

Movie geekishness: There’s only one football game in the entire movie, at the mid-point. If this is a sports flick, shouldn’t it end with the excitement of the big championship game?

 

Thoughts upon this viewing: Just dreadfully dull. At one point, I got up started cleaning my house because I forget this movie was still playing.

Next: Everybody comes to Rick’s.

****

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Fantastic Friday: Everybody swim the dinosaur

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. This time travel storyline that started ten issues ago finally comes to an end in issue #347.

As the result of all their time traveling, the FF have ended up on a time-displaced island with some soldiers and a whole lot of dinosaurs. The island rapidly being sucked back into the dinosaurs’ time, so our heroes have to find a way off, quick. Further complicating matters is that nobody’s superpowers work on this island, so Sharon is human again and Ben is carrying the team in his Thing-shaped exoskeleton. The issue begins with Reed and the soldiers building a raft in hopes of heading out to sea, and hopefully outside whatever time bubble the island is caught in. Ben and Sharon have a heart-to-heart where she reveals that she is enjoying being human again, and that she feels reborn.

A tyrannosaurus attacks, so we get a couple of pages of fighting. Sharon tries to sacrifice herself to save Ben, only for Ben to rescue her. They have another heart-to-heart, where she says she’d rather be a living monster than a dead human. Ben promises to talk to Reed about a cure for Sharon when they get home.

While this has been going on, the island has been experiencing temporal storms, causing the volcano at the center of the island to erupt. Everyone leaves the island on the raft, only to be pursued in the water by a Kronosaurus (one of the largest plesiosaurs, the comic informs us). Everyone fights the dino just as the raft passes through the time barrier back into the present.

The raft falls apart, only for Sue to create a new one with her force fields, revealing that the FF now have their powers back. Johnny flies ahead signal a passing ship for rescue. Sharon turns back into a Thing. She breaks out in tears over this, but Ben says he thinks she’s beautiful no matter what, and he promises a second time to help find her a cure.

We end with a one-panel epilogue, depicting an office environment in a place “where time has no meaning.” This reveals that all this business with the island was the result of a bureaucratic error, and that the temporal disruptions have been repaired. This would appear be a one-off joke in the style of Douglas Adams, but it’s actually the first appearance of the Time Variance Authority, who will show up again in just a few issues, and who will later complicate life for the Avengers, She-Hulk, and even Deadpool.

Unstable molecule: Reed spends this whole issue wearing U.S. military duds, after sacrificing his FF uniform to distract a dinosaur last issue.

Fade out: Every time Ben and Sharon have a heart-to-heart, it’s accompanied by Sue insisting that the rest of the team let them have their privacy.

Clobberin’ time: One of the soldiers suggests that Ben enlist, but he says he’s too busy being a superhero. What’s not mentioned is that Ben was an Air Force pilot before his FF days.

Flame on: There’s one panel devoted to Johnny still being obsessed with evil space babe Nebula, after she took over his mind a few issues back. He worries about how he’ll tell this to Alicia.

Fantastic fifth wheel: It seems inconsistent the way Sharon goes back and forth from wanting to be human versus not wanting to be human. I suppose that, realistically, she would have conflicted feelings about her situation, but an indecisive character is nearly impossible to write well.

Commercial break: Be a superstar!

Trivia time: The Kronosaurus was a real dinosaur from the Cretaceous period. It was approximately 30 feet long and weighed approximately 11 metric tons. In 1977, a nearly complete Kronosaurus fossil was found in Columbia, and is currently on display in a museum there.

The Bullpen Bulletins page in this issue announces a new venture, The Marvel World of Tomorrow, which would later become Marvel’s 2099 line.

Fantastic or Frightful? Another issue that’s mostly cool dinosaur fights, and little else other than the ongoing Ben/Sharon drama. But, if you’re only in it for the dinosaur fights, then you’re good.

Next: Days of future when?

****

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Random Warner Bros. – The Wizard of Oz

Watching all the movies on the Warner Bros. 50-movie box set that I bought for cheap. This week the random number generator will get The Wizard of Oz and its little dog, too.

Here’s what happens: Young Dorothy is fed up with farm life in old-timey Kansas, so she plots to run away from home, only to be swept up in a tornado and end up in the magical land of Oz. She makes some new friends and embarks on an epic adventure, all to realize that home what she wanted all along.

Why it’s famous: Pretty much everything. Great performances, mind-blowing production value, catchy songs, and a script that’s family-friendly without dumbing things for kids.

Get your film degree: Has any movie been more historically researched than The Wizard of Oz? All the trivia and behind-the-scenes info is already out there, from the actors’ histories and the creation of the makeup and effects, to more out-there stuff like the Munchkin actors throwing a wild party and stories of a dead body on the set (it’s actually a bird).

Movie geekishness: Do I own a bootleg DVD with the movie synced up with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon? You bet I do! Did I also rewatch it for this blog post? You bet I did! I’ll admit it’s often uncanny how the two match up, but I think it’s merely because a blockbuster movie musical and a blockbuster concept album have similar pacing, so that scenes and songs start and end at the same time.

Thoughts upon this viewing: How could I not love The Wizard of Oz? It’s The Wizard of Oz! It’s the definitive Hollywood blockbuster.

Next: She blinded me with science.

****

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Random Warner Bros. – The Hangover

Watching all the movies on the Warner Bros. 50-movie box set that I bought for cheap. This week the random number generator selected The Hangover. That’s right, Warner decided that freakin’ The Hangover belonged on the same list of movies like Gone With the Wind, Amadeus, and A Streetcar Named Desire.

Here’s what happens: On the night before Doug is married, he goes to Vegas for a bachelor party with alpha male Phil, stressed-out nebbish Stu, and the socially befuddled Alan. After a night of partying, Phil, Stu and Alan wake up hungover in a trashed hotel room, with no memory of the night before, and no idea where Doug is. They attempt to retrace their steps, experiencing a variety of misadventures while trying to find Doug and get him home in time for the wedding.

Why it’s famous: The biggest in a wave of “bad behavior” comedies of the 2000s, The Hangover made celebrities of Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifinakis, and Ken Jeong.

Get your film degree: For as substance-less as this movie is, the three main characters fit into a classic comedy archetype: The nice guy, the angry guy, and the dumb guy. Variations on this formula can be seen in lots of iconic trios —  Mickey, Donald, and Goofy; Bugs, Daffy, and Porky; Jerry, George and Kramer; Fone Bone, Phony Bone, and Smiley Bone; and so on.

Movie geekishness: I put the commentary on, and director makes a big deal over having carefully worked out exactly what the guys did during their wild night, so that all the clues and all their experiences can be pieces together, if fans are interested.

Thoughts upon this viewing: I don’t know. I think The Hangover only works when you see it the first time, not knowing what’s coming next. The humor relies on surprise, and catching the audience off guard. Yes, it’s funny, but it doesn’t hold up to repeat viewings.

Next: The lunatic is on the grass.

****

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Fantastic Friday: Dino thunder

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. When we last saw our heroes, they ended up in an alternate universe after time-traveling, where they prevented a war. It appeared to be over, with the FF heading home, but in issue #345, we’re still not done time-traveling!

The issue begins with a bang, when the FF’s time sled breaks through the time barrier and crash lands in a jungle. Sharon is knocked unconscious and starts transforming from a Thing back into a human, and the rest of the team find their powers have stopped working. They’re surrounded by a group of U.S. soldiers who recently crash-landed on this island. Without their powers, the FF have a time convincing the soldiers they are who they say they are.

The disagreement is interrupted by… a dinosaur! (It’s a spinosaurus, we later learn.) There’s a fight, in which Ben proves his worth by using the high-tech weapons from the time sled to take down the beast, after the soldiers’ guns can’t penetrate its hide.

The soldiers and the FF make camp at the highest point of the island, a dormant volcano. While the others watch the dinosaurs from a distance, Ben and Sharon have a heart-to-heart. She’s having mixed feelings about being human again, but he assured her that he loves her no matter what she looks like.

 

The next morning, more dinosaurs attack. The FF help themselves to the soldiers’ guns to help fight them off. There’s a weird bit where Reed strips down to his undies, using his FF uniform like a bullfighter’s flag to distract one of them. Ben dives into action wearing his Thing-shaped exoskeleton, handily fighting off the dinosaurs.

Reed and the soldiers hatch a plan to convert the time sled into some sort of radio transmitter to call for help. On their way back to the sled, everyone discovers that half of the island has disappeared. Reed says the timestream is correcting itself, and if they don’t do something soon, the FF and the soldiers will end up in the age of the dinosaurs… permanently.

Unstable molecule: Reed seems awfully quick to pick up the nearest gun and start shooting at the dinosaurs. Is this out if character or isn’t it?

Fade out: Sue is shown performing first aid on one of the injured soldiers, and its accepted that this is just something that she can do.

Clobberin’ time: This issue is a showcase for Ben, with him pretty much carrying the rest of the team, earning serious superhero cred without the need for his powers.

Flame on: When Johnny’s powers don’t work, he makes an actual torch from the soldiers’ campfire to use as a weapon, what with him being an expert in fire and all.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Remember that before she became a Thing, Sharon suffered some serious PTSD and was afraid to touch a man. Now that’s she’s human again and can touch an also-human Ben, she unsure of what that means.

Commercial break: Remember when we all thought Raistlin was cool? Or is he still cool and I don’t know it?

Trivia time: The Marvel Wiki has an entry on this island, naming it simply, “Dinosaur Island.” This story arc, however, is its only appearance.

Fantastic or frightful? This story arc is often criticized for being nothing but an excuse for Walt Simonson to draw dinosaurs, but when he draws them as well as he does, why not? It’s a lot of fun, capturing the “we’re on an adventure” feeling of the best FF stories.

Next week: We’ve got to get off this island, Wilson!

****

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Friday the 13th: The Series rewatch – Bottle of Dreams

It’s the Halloween season, so let’s watch season one of Friday the 13th: The Series.

“Lewis Vendredi made a deal with the devil to sell cursed antiques. But he broke the pact, and it cost him his soul. Now, his niece Micki, and her cousin Ryan have inherited the store… and with it, the curse. Now, they must get everything back, and the real terror begins.”

 

The good news is, I managed to get through the whole first season in time for Halloween. The bad news is the season finale, episode twenty-six, “Bottle of Dreams,” is a clip show. Freakin’ clip shows.

Mystery man.

Micki, Ryan and Jack are throwing a little party for themselves inside the store to celebrate one year of successful evil antique hunting. A man dressed in robes enters, leaves an antique urn with our heroes, and leaves. Micki and Ryan take the urn into the vault, where smoke comes out of it and the door locks them in.

Jack calls upon his friend and fellow occultist Rashid for help. Rashid explains that the urn is making Micki and Ryan experience a “death dream,” in which they relive their most terrifying experiences, until they can’t stand it anymore and their hearts burst. This is a long-winded way of explaining the use of footage from previous episodes — “The Inheritance,” “Cupid’s Quiver,” “Scarecrow,” “Tattoo,” “Doctor Jack,” and “Tales of the Undead.”

That old black magic.

Jack gets the idea of him and Rashid casting a spell that allows him to enter Micki and Ryan’s dream psychically and bring them out of it. Rashid warns against this, saying that Jack, of all people, shouldn’t do this. Jack insists. While they prepare the spell, the ghost of Uncle Lewis appears! He says he’s sick of Micki and Ryan interfering in his work. Jack swears to send Lewis back to Hell.

In the dream world, Lewis taunts Jack with the image of a young boy in a coma. Turns out this is Peter, Jack’s son! Peter was a powerful psychic whose spirit left his body to explore this very dream world, but never returned. It’s all a trick, of course, and Jack turns his back on Peter to save Ryan and Micki. He finds them as they are reliving the episode “The Baron’s Bride,” which you’ll remember was the black-and-white one. As they reunite in the dream, Jack is in color while the other two are in black-and-white, with a fiery wall between them. Jack breaks through the wall, allowing Micki and Ryan to escape the dream and get out of the vault. Rashid warns our heroes that Lewis’s spirit is still out here… somewhere…

I’ll assume this is some never-before-seen corner of the Black Lodge.

When the show is smart: I’m not a fan of clip shows, so I normally skip this one whenever I go through the series. Rewatching it this time, I was impressed to see so much time devoted to the show’s lore and to Jack’s backstory. I’m reminded of The Simpsons’ first clip show, “So It’s Come to This,” where, even though it’s a clip show, the creators still made an effort.

When the show is cheesy: The clips are mostly taken from previous episodes’ finales, but they cut off just before showing the audience how our heroes survived. If by any chance this is someone’s first time watching Friday the 13th, they’ll be frustrated with not knowing what happened.

Break on through.

Devilish dialogue: Uncle Lewis: “My niece and nephew are paying a price for interfering and it’ll keep on until they die. Then, the forces of darkness will take over this store and once again Satan’s toys will flow across this world like an unholy tide, sweeping everything before it.”

Trivia tidbits:

– This is the first of only two on-screen appearances of Jack’s friend Rashid, although Rashid is mentioned in several other episodes, usually providing pieces of exposition to Jack via a phone call.

– According to Alyse Wax’s excellent book Curious Goods: Behind the Scenes of Friday the 13th: The Series, it wasn’t budget that necessitated a clip show, but the writers’ strike of 1988. With the show’s regular writing staff on the picket lines, a non-union Canadian writer was brought in the bang out this script on the quick.

Party time!

Back in the vault: I still dislike clip shows, but I must admit this one is better than I remembered. I guess it’s as good a season finale as any, summing up the best aspects of the show — cheesy horror that occasionally gets super dark and gory, but with genuine character development at its heart.

Happy Halloween, all.

****

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Friday the 13th: The Series rewatch – What a Mother Wouldn’t Do

It’s the Halloween season, so let’s watch season one of Friday the 13th: The Series.

“Lewis Vendredi made a deal with the devil to sell cursed antiques. But he broke the pact, and it cost him his soul. Now, his niece Micki, and her cousin Ryan have inherited the store… and with it, the curse. Now, they must get everything back, and the real terror begins.”

It’s Mother’s Day in October for episode twenty-five, “What a Mother Wouldn’t Do.”

Married couple Leslie and Martin have a baby born with a rare ailment, and the child will likely not survive. However, they have a cursed cradle from Uncle Lewis’ store. The cradle can cure the baby, but only if the parents murder a certain number of people. Specifically, the victims must be killed in water. This is because the cradle was recovered from the Titanic.

Mom’s got the crazy eyes again.

Micki, Ryan and Jack investigate, with the help of a babysitter, Debbie. Martin attempts to kill Debbie, but she’s rescued by Ryan. Micki and Ryan try to steal back the cradle, but realize they can’t without harming the baby. In a second fight, Leslie thinks she’s successfully killed Debbie and Ryan. In the final confrontation, Leslie and Martin both die — he in a fishtank and her in a fountain. The baby appears to vanish as if by magic, but what our heroes don’t know is that Debbie survived, and ran off with the now-healthy baby to start a new life.

Mind the baby.

When the show is smart: The series really succeeds at creating sympathetic villains, and Leslie definitely is that, with her only motivation being the well-being of her child. This is also an ethical conundrum for our heroes, bringing out some great performances among the main cast.

When the show is cheesy: Not forgetting the show’s slasher movie roots, Martin dons a weird smiley-face mask when he tries to murder Debbie by drowning her in her own bathtub. I do believe this is the stuff that censors had a problem with.

Do I creep you out?

Devilish dialogue: Micki: “The damn curse can even affect innocent babies. The things we do here, I mean, it’s as though there’s no more good anywhere.” Ryan: “Yeah, it’s as though we get to see the worst side of everything. Either they’re using a cursed object or they’re getting one used on them.”

Trivia tidbits:

– Uncle Lewis is back! Sort of. He appears in the opening scene, a flashback of how Leslie spotted the cradle at the antique store, and how Lewis didn’t sell it to her, but gave it to her as a gift.

Dear old uncle.

Back in the vault: Here’s another episode where the show hits all the right notes. Compelling characters and some spooky scenes add up to a solid hour of television.

****

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Friday the 13th: The Series rewatch – Badge of Honor

It’s the Halloween season, so let’s watch season one of Friday the 13th: The Series.

“Lewis Vendredi made a deal with the devil to sell cursed antiques. But he broke the pact, and it cost him his soul. Now, his niece Micki, and her cousin Ryan have inherited the store… and with it, the curse. Now, they must get everything back, and the real terror begins.”

The series turns into Miami Vice for a week in episode twenty-three, “Badge of Honor.”

A close-to-retirement cop gets hold of a cursed antique sheriff’s badge, which he uses as a weapon to go vigilante on a ring of evil counterfeiters. Meanwhile, Micki romances Tim, an ex-boyfriend who (of course) is revealed to also be part of the counterfeiters.

Gangsta.

After lots of cops vs. crooks action, and lots of ‘80s cop show saxophone music, both the vigilante cop and the counterfeiters die in a shootout. Tim, who is revealed to be an undercover FBI agent, is also shot.

The cursed badge doesn’t do much interesting. It just kills whoever it touches.

When the show is smart: Outside of the gangster stuff, the real story in this episode is Micki and Tim’s whirlwind romance, and Ryan’s jealously. After everything Ryan has been through in the last couple of episodes, it’s understandable that he doesn’t want his newfound monster-hunting family to be broken up.

Romance.

When the show is cheesy: The height of Miami Vice’s popularity had been years earlier, but that didn’t stop the show’s creators from aping it in a big way, with the sylin’ nightclubs, edge gangster dialogue, and so, so much saxophone music.

Ryan even wears his Miami Vice jacket.

Devilish dialogue: “Back in the old days, it was simple. There were cops, and there were crooks. Today, I can’t tell the difference.”

Trivia time:

– During the nightclub scene at the start of the episode, the song playing is Killer Instinct, sung by Louise Robey, F13’s own Micki!

Sibling (cousin) rivalry.

Back in the vault: It’s great how the show’s creators continue to try new things and different genres, but this one come off as trying too hard. The conflict between Micki and Ryan is good, but the rest gets a shrug.

Next: In the pipeline.

****

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Friday the 13th: The Series rewatch – The Pirate’s Promise

It’s the Halloween season, so let’s watch season one of Friday the 13th: The Series.

“Lewis Vendredi made a deal with the devil to sell cursed antiques. But he broke the pact, and it cost him his soul. Now, his niece Micki, and her cousin Ryan have inherited the store… and with it, the curse. Now, they must get everything back, and the real terror begins.”

 

Our heroes go full Scooby Doo when they go after a pirate ghost in episode twenty-two, “The Pirate’s Promise.”

In a seaside town, a lighthouse keeper named Joe owns a cursed foghorn. He murders someone, uses the foghorn to summon a pirate’s ghost from the sea (!). The ghost takes the body and gives old-timey gold coins in return. While investigating, Micki and Ryan befriend a local historian, Dewey.

Somewhere… beyond the sea…

The pirate doesn’t just demand any victims, but specifically the descendants of those who once mutinied against him. There’s one last descendant in town, and it’s a race to find out who it is before the killer does. The missing descendant is Dewey, who’s killed by Joe. But, in the final confrontation with the ghost, the ghost reveals that Joe is also a descendant, and the ghost takes them both.

When the show is smart: This one ends with a dramatic coda back at the store, where Micki and Ryan take time to mourn their friend Dewey. It’s a nice moment that shows life and death have real meaning to these characters, and the folks they meet are more than just disposable slasher movie victims.

Sad times.

When the show is cheesy: I’m not an expert in these things, but “Angus McBride” just doesn’t sound like a cool pirate name to me.

Devilish dialogue: Micki: “It looks so cold. Cold and dead.” Joe: “You sound like sailor.”

Cavernous.

Trivia time:

– Although the show was filmed in Toronto, for this episode the cast and crew road-tripped to Lake Erie, to film on location at a rocky beach and an actual old-timey lighthouse. I did a little googling to find out which one, but it turns out the lake has tons of lighthouses.

Want to be a lighthouse keeper, and keep her by the sea.

Back in the vault: A fun episode, with a memorable monster and tons of atmosphere. The attempt at a mystery with a final twist is pretty predictable, but it’s an enjoyable ride getting there.

Next: Cop land.

****

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