Movie Project #22: Stand By Me [1986]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Stand By Me [1986]

Stand By Me [1986]
Director: Rob Reiner
Writers: Stephen King (novel), Raynold Gideon (screenplay), Bruce A. Evans (screenplay)
Country: USA
Genre: Adventure/Drama
Starring: Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell
Running Time: 89 minutes

Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me, an adaptation of Stephen King’s novella The Body, is a favorite of many, but it took some time for me to warm up to to this coming-of-age tale.

Set in the 1950s, the film early on feels like it’s trying a bit too hard to provide that bubbly feeling of nostalgia. Songs such as “Rockin’ Robin” play in the background as our protagonists, a group of 12-13 year old boys, play cards, smoke cigarettes and mess around with guns. They represent a time since past, and Reiner does everything in his power to make us feel sentimental about this era. It’s all a bit much at first.

It was the kids that wound up winning me over on the film.

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Movie Project #23: The Fly [1986]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

The Fly [1986]

The Fly [1986]
Director: David Cronenberg
Genre: Horror/Sci-Fi
Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis and John Getz
Runtime: 96 minutes

David Cronenberg’s The Fly starts off innocently enough as a simple sci-fi story. Jeff Goldblum is Seth Brundle, a reclusive scientist who meets journalist Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) at a networking event. Brundle has been working feverishly on a scientific breakthrough and jumps at the opportunity to show off his work to a pretty lady. Veronica follows him to his home/lab, where she makes the stunning discovery that Seth has a set of “Telepods” — teleportation devices that can transport inanimate objects from one area to another.

Teleporting living creatures is still a work in progress, as his most recent attempt ended up with a baboon bloodily turned inside out. Somehow a spark ignites between Seth and Veronica, and they begin spending more time together. A romantic encounter reinvigorates Seth, and this leads to him figuring out a way to successfully transport living objects.

The Fly [1986]

One night, paranoid that Veronica is hooking back up with her former partner, Stathis Borans (John Getz), Seth gets drunk and decides to test his Telepods on himself — the very first human subject. The teleportation is successful, but there is one small problem (literally) with the test: there was a fly in the tube with Brundle.

It takes some time for the effects to kick in, but Brundle eventually begins turning into a fly. This is when the movie transforms itself from not just sci-fi but to full-blown horror as well.

The Fly [1986]

Parts of Brundle’s body begin falling off. His fingernails. His ears. He starts vomiting profusely. He develops the ability to cling to walls and ceilings. All of this is captured expertly by Cronenberg and his makeup crew, with some disgustingly impressive gore and so-called “body horror” effects. Seriously, this film has a reputation for its graphic special effects, and it does not disappoint at all in this regard. The Fly actually won an Oscar for Best Makeup, and it still holds up remarkably well today.

Underneath the horror and sci-fi elements is a tragic love story between Seth and Veronica, with Stathis finding himself entangled as well in the bizarre happenings. There is a surprising amount of depth to The Fly, and for those who can handle the excessive gore, there will be something for everyone to enjoy. Goldblum and Davis are fun to watch together, and the story, while familiar, is a good one. Chalk this one up as my favorite Cronenberg film so far.

8/10

Movie Project #13: Blue Velvet [1986]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a second round for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Blue Velvet [1986]

Blue Velvet [1986]
Director: David Lynch
Genre: Crime/Mystery/Thriller
Starring: Isabella Rossellini, Kyle MacLachlan and Dennis Hopper
Runtime: 120 minutes

I have been thinking about Blue Velvet quite a bit since I saw it two weeks ago, and I have struggled to put my thoughts into words. How does one write about a film so dark and peculiar, one that turns Middle America upside down on its head?

The classic opening scene sets the tone for this neo-noir. We see glimpses of blue skies, white picket fences, vibrant flowers, school children crossing the street, a man watering his lawn while his wife watches television inside. Suddenly, the man’s garden hose becomes tangled, and in the fuss to get it loose, he suffers a stroke and falls to the ground. A dog playfully sticks its head in and out of the still-flowing water as a child wanders onto the scene. The camera then makes its way through the blades of grass on the lawn before digging deeper into the beetle-infested dirt, no doubt a metaphor of the seedy underworld to be found in this glimpse of suburbia.

The old man’s stroke serves as an introduction to our protagonist, his son Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan), a college student who comes into town to visit his ailing father. After walking home from the hospital, he spots a severed ear near the side of the road. Jeffrey takes the ear to Police Detective Williams (George Dickerson), and meets the detective’s daughter Sandy (Laura Dern) for the first time. She gives Jeffrey a tip about the missing ear, and the two of them decide to do some sleuthing on their own.

The investigation leads them to the apartment of nightclub singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini), and this is where the movie takes a bizarre and unexpected turn. Jeffrey sneaks into the singer’s apartment and unexpectedly finds himself the witness to a violent S&M excursion, as a wild and out-of-control Dennis Hopper (as Frank Booth) bursts into the room and has his way with Vallens. What transpires from this moment on is just crazy, as Jeffrey gets caught up in a strange sexual relationship with Vallens, all while trying to stay hidden from the dangerous Booth.

It really is strange how the movie flips a relatively standard mystery plot into a violent S&M freakshow, but would you really expect anything less from David Lynch? The movie zips along as it pleases, throwing all sorts of odd behavior at the viewer, and it even includes a seemingly random (but incredible) lip-syncing scene featuring Dean Stockwell:

No matter how weird the movie gets, it is always entertaining. This is helped by the addition of Dennis Hopper, in an absolutely deliriously over-the-top performance as the psychopathic Frank Booth. The man is a gas-huffing lunatic who has a strong affinity for Pabst Blue Ribbon:

Seriously, that line had me in hysterics. Isabella Rossellini is also fantastic as her character gradually evolves over the film’s running time, leaving her bare and broken along the way. Her performance drew much sympathy from Roger Ebert, who surprisingly gave this film a negative review.

The bottom line here is that Blue Velvet is quintessential Lynch. I found the movie to be fascinating, but I am still trying to wrap my head around some of its ideas (and reading other theories just muddied my thoughts even further). As expected, this seems to be a film that will reward further on subsequent viewings, and writing this post has made me eager to see Blue Velvet again. If there’s one thing that can be said, it’s that Lynch has a way of sticking around in your brain.

8/10

Movie Project #9: Paris, Texas [1984]

Due to the overwhelming success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a second round for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Paris, Texas [1986]

Paris, Texas [1984]
Director: Wim Wenders
Genre: Drama
Starring: Harry Dean Stanton, Nastassja Kinski and Dean Stockwell
Runtime: 147 minutes

A lot can happen in four years.

Desperate to get away from his past, Travis Henderson (Harry Dean Stanton) wanders mysteriously through the Mojave Desert. When we see him, he doesn’t look well. He is wearing a weathered suit jacket and tie with a worn-out red baseball cap on his head, and he has a scraggly beard that looks to not have been touched in months. Upon stumbling into an old dusty saloon, Travis searches for water before settling on a handful of ice cubes. He puts them in his mouth, begins chewing, and promptly passes out.

Paris, Texas [1986]

When he comes to, he is in a nearby hospital. A German doctor has sifted through Travis’s supplies (essentially just his barren wallet) and finds a phone number. A quick call goes out to Travis’s brother, Walt (Dean Stockwell), and he drives out immediately to pick up his long-lost sibling.

It takes a long time for Travis to begin talking. Once he finally does so, we learn that he suffers from amnesia, often having difficulty putting pieces of his memories back together. He has been missing for four years after he got up and left behind his wife and toddler son without them knowing. He has a penchant for the town of Paris, Texas, which puzzles his brother. There are a lot of question marks surrounding this startling development, and the film follows Travis as he begins to re-connect with his past.

Paris, Texas [1986]

Paris, Texas is a slow and brooding film that places a heavy emphasis on dialogue and character development. Some may take issue with the methodical pacing, but it’s hard to look away from the beautiful cinematography, and to also focus on the incredible acting from all involved. Many claim this to be Harry Dean Stanton’s finest performance, and this is not a point I will argue. The child actor who plays Travis’s son, Hunter (Hunter Carson), does remarkably well at showcasing the uncertainties of developing a relationship with a father he doesn’t remember. Still, special mention must be made of Nastassja Kinski, who plays Travis’s long-lost wife, Jane. The scenes where the former lovers finally confront each other, behind a one-sided mirror, are among the most heartbreaking I have seen.

Paris, Texas won the Palme d’Or at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival, and it has developed a bit of a cult following since then. It’s hard to promote the irrational behavior of someone such as the character of Travis Henderson, but the film does a tremendous job of keeping us interested anyway. I can’t say I connected to the film as much as some of its more vocal supporters have, but this tale is one I will certainly not be forgetting.

8/10

 
Interesting bit of trivia: This was the favorite movie of both Kurt Cobain and Elliott Smith. It was also a major influence on U2’s seminal album, The Joshua Tree.

Retro Gaming Project #1: Castlevania [NES]

Castlevania [NES]

Castlevania
System: NES
Genre: Platforming
Publisher: Konami/Nintendo
Developer: Konami
Release Date: September 26, 1986

My first Castlevania game was the PS1’s Symphony of the Night. I bought it on a whim, not knowing what to expect despite seeing great review scores. It didn’t take long for me to get hooked on the game’s mashup of action, platforming and RPG styles, all while providing a massive castle to explore. Even the notoriously bad dialogue did nothing but enhance the experience.

Since then, I have played many of the handheld Castlevania titles, most of which are near the level of quality of Symphony of the Night. I have always been embarrassed to say, however, that I have never played anything before SOTN. Wanting to play through this series from the beginning was a BIG reason why I started this retro project.

Entering the gates of Castlevania. So...much...burnt...orange.

It seems unlikely that Konami knew what they had on their hands while making the very first Castlevania. Surely they couldn’t have expected a seemingly generic horror game to spawn more than a dozen sequels spanning over 25 years. But alas, that is what happened despite its humble roots.

Castlevania begins with our whip-carrying hero, Simon Belmont, approaching the castle’s massive entrance gate. He makes his way through the courtyard, cracking open lamps to obtain hearts and weapon power-ups, before entering the castle itself. The castle shows its age right off the bat, as its wallpaper has random tears, exposing the brick beneath. Simon is quickly greeted by zombies, moving much faster than you would expect, but they can be eradicated by a simple crack of the whip. Candles can be broken for more hearts and items, and the path is generally straightforward.

It doesn’t take long for shit to get real.

Whipping a large skeleton, one of the more easier enemies.

While the first few levels aren’t too difficult, the game sees a drastic spike in difficulty about halfway through the campaign. Medusa heads fly through the air, determined to knock you off the ground and into the deep, dark abyss below. Tiny flea men bounce around as if all hopped up on caffeine, sporadically moving about while constantly bumping into Simon. Getting hit by an enemy in the later levels takes up a significantly larger amount of his health, often causing cheap and frustrating deaths.

Don’t get me started about the bosses. The battles against Death (level five) and Dracula (the final boss) are among the hardest I have EVER played in a video game. It took me a hell of a long time to just get to Death, but no matter what I tried I could not beat the bastard through conventional means. Dracula was just as bad, although his second form doesn’t hold a candle compared to the first.

Frankenstein & Igor, the bosses of stage four

There are unlimited continues, thankfully, but they generally place you at the start of the stage upon going through the original batch of lives. So yeah, Simon has to make his way past all of the Medusa heads, Axe men, flea men and random other horror enemies before facing that son-of-a-bitch known as Death.

What makes the game most difficult are its decidedly poor controls. Simon cannot control his direction once in the air, and he can only crack his whip straight ahead. When he is hit by an enemy, he goes flying several feet backward. This leads to some infuriatingly cheap deaths, particularly from those blasted Medusa heads or flying bats that show up at the most inopportune times.

Climbing the stairs to that son-of-a-bitch Dracula

Borderline extreme difficulty be damned, this is still Castlevania, and damn if it isn’t fun. The classic, sexy 8-bit tunes, the campy horror atmosphere, the random inclusion of cooked turkey hiding in the walls… this is what it’s all about. I haven’t been as pissed off at a video game as much as this in recent years, but I couldn’t stop playing it anyway. A great start to an impressive franchise.

8/10