61 Days of Halloween: The Fog (1980)

Introduction

For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween and a list of previously featured titles please go here.

The Fog (1980)

The first time I saw this film was quite a special experience. It was so not only because it was on the big screen (sure it was off a DVD, but still) but because it was very many years after the film’s initial release. The film is quite a magical feat.

What’s impressive to consider upon revisiting this film, following its wonderful transition to Blu-ray by the fine folks at Scream Factory, is that at its core it’s a very simple tale. In fact, it’s much like a campfire story, which is one of the things that really kick the film off. It’s what Stephen King might’ve described in Danse Macabre as a “tale of the the hook.” There’s a simple but wonderful backstory to this tale that allows many of the pivotal moments to be purely visual.

Furthermore, while some secrets about the history of Lorenzo Bay are being unveiled there is opportunity to crosscut to the simultaneous chaos ensuing. Which leads to another great thing about the film the fact that we the audience are given all the pieces, but the multi-character nature of the film leaves many of them only partially clued in.

Then, of course, there’s the rather obvious element of the fog itself. As human beings we get used to having five senses quite quickly, and having one taken away or severely impaired by something can lend itself to horrific situations, which is why so many horror films do occur at night or feature fog.

To have a film like this at any point after making something along the lines of Halloween would be impressive enough, but to have it come two years later and right before a very successful sequel and The Thing is why John Carpenter is one of the legends of the genre.

With Dean Cundey as Director of Photography and a cast featuring Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh, John Houseman, Hal Holbrook and Tom Atkins there truly is little that can go wrong with a film such as this and hardly anything does. Carpenter and frequent collaborator Debra Hill here quickly frame a story with many characters that never feels rushed, confused or aimless and one that delivers many genuine chills. A true classic.

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Once Upon a Time in the 80s: Amazing Grace and Chuck (Part 15 of 17)

Warning: This post features in depth story analysis, which includes spoilers. If you have not seen this film proceed at your own risk or not at all.

This film was the catalyst for this paper. I think what I admire above all else in filmmaking is bravery and I think it was very risky to make this film. This is an idealistic fairy tale about global nuclear disarmament and of political martyrdom. David Field, writer, and Mike Newell, director, knew no fear in making this film, there was no ceiling for how far it could go. While it’s an outlandish tale, it admits as such, and gives it even more redeeming value in the process.

The film very early on inserts a title stating “Once Upon A Time There was a Boy…” it’s a fairy tale, for some reason some Americans just cannot comprehend that a fairy tale can be depicted in a live action film. What we have in this film is a grassroots movement. A boy, Chuck Murdock (Joshua Zuehlke), is taken on a field trip to a missile silo one day. The kids are shown an actual missile, Chuck is the only one who questions its existence and is also very frightened because his father is in the Air Force. After the trip the Congressman who led them around pulls him aside and tells him “That missile will never be used, that’s why it was built,” it’s that kind of thinking that got us in an arms race stockpile and made us want to scare the other guy into not using their weapons. That night Chuck has a nightmare that he is caught at the silo during a nuclear attack.

The next day when he gets on the pitcher’s mound he decides to quit baseball. He states it’s “his best thing,” and no one understands why their star pitcher walked off the field. Then he explains that he won’t play baseball again until there are no more nuclear weapons.

Amazing Grace and Chuck (1987, TriStar Pictures)

The other protagonist of this film is a professional basketball player nicknamed “Amazing Grace” Smith, played by Alex English who was a player for the Denver Nuggets at the time this film was produced. We see him playing, hit a three-point shot and give his famous three fingers in the air gesture, after the game his agent/best friend, Lynn (Jaime Lee Curtis) reads him an article about Chuck and the wheels start spinning.

With the memory of his wife and daughter gnawing at his mind, Amazing decides to quit basketball and do like Chuck did, an official protest has begun. At one point someone asks Amazing “Do you really think you’re going to bring an end to nuclear weapons?” Amazing turns to him and says “I don’t know but wouldn’t it be nice.” This soon starts a snowball effect and so many athletes join the cause that professional sports are crippled and the movement spreads worldwide. So leftist is this film that Ted Turner was a consultant and used this film to promote CNN with many news reports in the film brandishing their logo.

The protest continues and gains national recognition. Chuck meets with the president and he eventually proposes that the Americans and Russians will disarm within seven years but this plan is rejected because the President (Gregory Peck) might not be in office by then. The protest causes problems between Chuck and his father and Amazing Grace starts getting anonymous phone calls. A powerful businessman, who has been threatening Amazing Grace, tricks him into getting on one of his planes and then he blows it up. Following Amazing Grace’s death Chuck vows not to talk anymore and this movement sweeps across the world and forces another meeting between the Russian Premier and the President.

Amazing Grace and Chuck (1987, TriStar Pictures)

We see them meeting at people in Montana in a cabin just a few miles from Chuck’s home. The President opens by saying “Are your grandchildren talking to you?” the Premier laughs and says “No.” Then they talk about how troubling it is that they’re losing their children. And ultimately this is what the disarmament would be for: so they don’t lose their children. They agree on total nuclear disarmament immediately. And, of course, the president goes to visit Chuck and thanks him.

Now a lot happens in these two hours and it all ends with Chuck stepping back up on the mound. The Russian Premier is there, so’s the President. The catcher starts to give him signs he shakes off the fastball one, and the curve two, and then he turns to the crowd and makes the three-point gesture. And every one stands and repeats the gesture, yeah it’s been done to death but in this film it all works. Chuck looks up to the heavens when he’s poised and says a word to Amazing, he throws the pitch and we follow the ball in close shot as it spins through the sky and cut to black and then there’s a title it reads:

“But wouldn’t it be nice.”
-Amazing Grace Smith

Amazing Grace and Chuck (1987, TriStar Pictures)

This is a film that is idealist and dares to dream. It takes the fears of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl and combines them with the hope of Glasnost and presented us with a fantasy. The poster for this film should tell you it’s a fantasy. And it’s one that only could have come out of the 80s, this film literally drips 80s. In the 1990s, and especially in the present, disarmament was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind. It’s a great film about one person can make a difference and a film with a message.

Top 10 Movies I Can’t Believe I Liked

This is a list I originally posted on my prior site. I don’t think I’ve found newer, better examples; so the choices remain the same. Below you’ll find 10 films that for one reason or another I had no expectations going into, but ended up liking.

10. The Shining (1980)

The Shining (1980, Warner Bros.))

I first saw this film in cinema class as a freshman in high school. Until I saw this film I never really enjoyed being scared, and I hated horror movies. In a class setting it must’ve taken three days to watch it and I was riveted as if I watched it in one viewing and I looked forward to it every day. It was Kubrick‘s The Shining (which I like better than the book) that got me to read Stephen King and ultimately made me fall in love with horror.

9. Star Wars – Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (2002, 20th Century Fox)

I saw the Star Wars prequels first. Having never felt the urge to see the originals, and then hearing about the prequel concept which was popularized, if not invented by, Lucas – I wanted to watch the movies in the story’s chronological order. So I waited until 2005 to see the original trilogy. After having seen The Phantom Menace I just didn’t get the appeal, but I stuck it out and went to see Attack of the Clones and then I got it – Star Wars – Episode II: Attack of the Clones is awesome. The Phantom Menace was just not that good at all and it never will be no matter how many times I watch the film. Star Wars – Episode II: Attack of the Clones won the BAM for Best Picture in 2002 (BAMs are my personal movie awards – look out for those here next year).

8. Hook (1991)

Hook (1991, Columbia)

This film being on the list is based entirely on concept. To me the idea of a movie about Peter Pan growing up was just absurd, so I avoided Hook for a long time but then I watched it… and Spielberg does turn almost everything into gold. It will never replace the original, or come close to it, but it is a very good and underrated film.

7. Max Keeble’s Big Move (2001)

Max Keeble's Big Move (2001, Disney)

I saw this as the cherry on top of a self-made triple feature one day. Of the movies I saw that day (Zoolander and Hearts in Atlantis being the other two), I had the lowest expectations for this one and it was my favorite. It is just a zany, off-the-wall comedy that actually ended up being nominated for a BAM as Best Picture.

6. Freaky Friday (2003)

Freaky Friday (2003, Disney)

It was one of those Disney’s 70s live-action films that just never quite did it for me for a number of reasons, but mainly because suspension of disbelief becomes difficult. Complicating matters this was the second time Lindsay Lohan was remaking a Disney film after her big break in the The Parent Trap. I went to see it ‘just because,’ not expecting much and loved it. It was probably Lohan’s last appealing character pre-drug/attitude problems and Jamie Lee Curtis is a perfect foil. Thus, the ridiculous concept didn’t bother me at all in the end.

5. School of Rock (2003)School of Rock (2003, Paramount)

Keep in mind this film was released in 2003. At the time I only really knew Jack Black from Tenacious D and I didn’t think this concept would work or be funny. I was dragged to watch the film just short of kicking and screaming, and lo and behold I loved it, and consider it to be one of the 50 funniest movies I’ve ever seen. No other vehicle has quite captured Jack Black’s lightning in a bottle like this film did. I was ultimately very glad I saw it indeed and watch it frequently – and quote it as well.

4. A Dog of Flanders (1999)

A Dog of Flanders (1999, Warner Bros.)

I used to go to the movies every weekend in junior high and high school, whether accompanied or not, to see something new. It didn’t matter what I went to see, and that’s how I saw the next film. Here’s a film that misleads with its title. Having never seen or heard of the original story and films upon which this most recent rendition was based I thought it was your typical ‘boy and his dog’ film, in fact the title refers to the protagonist, Nello, as much as it does to his dog. However, at its heart it is a much more serious tale of poverty, sacrifice and the struggle to be an artist. In fact, it may well be one of the best examples of that subgenre. It is a rare film in which the protagonist ages and both performances by actors playing younger and older Nello (Jesse James and Jeremy James Kissner) are equally compelling. Along with a great supporting turn from Jon Voight, a good score, and a tear-jerking ending this is a great film that caught me completely by surprise.


3. Young Einstein (1988)

Young Einstein (1988, Warner Bros.)

I literally saw this because Home Alone was sold out, or was it Batman? Either way I didn’t see it that day and my friend’s birthday plans changed. Just watching it under those conditions should have lead to disappointment. However, I remember it being okay and not a complete and total waste of time. And looking back and considering that it starred a man who calls himself Yahoo Serious that is saying something.


2. High School Musical (2006)

High School Musical (2006, Disney Channel)

If nothing else, it’s one of those movies you watch just because you want to see what people are talking about, and I have to admit that the first one actually does work. Yes, it’s sappy, but it makes no claims to be otherwise and doesn’t try to overdevelop subplot as the 2nd and 3rd installments do. The sequels are also pretty much artistically unjustified and terrible but that can’t detract from the first.

1. Jack Frost (1998)

Jack Frost (1998, Warner Bros.)

This one sits atop the list because it deals with perhaps the most preposterous storyline of them all. A kid loses his father and finds him the next year reincarnated as a snowman. It sounds like the kind of thing that would land on MST3K. However, with the setup, the tumult surrounding the father leaving and the devastation his loss causes, and with all the insinuations of insanity handled immediately – it starts to work. What pushes it over the top are the performances of the cast: the always great Michael Keaton, both on screen and in voice becomes a character we ourselves greatly miss seeing. Joseph Cross, who is now an established character actor having recently appeared in Lincoln, after his prior comeback with Running with Scissors and a supporting role in the Oscar-winning Milk; gives the performance of his childhood career (which is saying something), as the sensitive, shy and affected Charlie. Rounding out the principal cast is Kelly Preston doing the most that almost anyone could with such a small role. It’s a film I’ve now seen a number of times and could probably pop in every holiday season without growing tired of it and still think “I can’t believe I like this, but I do.”

It’s An Honor Just To Be Nominated

Elizabeth Taylor and Roddy McDowall in Cleopatra (20th Century Fox)

“It’s a an honor just to be nominated” is a phrase that’s such a truism that it rings empty and hollow. In fact, you hardly hear it anymore, however, I do believe actors when they do say it. The fact is there are only so many Oscar nominations to go around such that many very, very talented people never even get so much as nominated. While some have one standout performance that grabs everyone’s attention. Below you will find a list that could be longer of some notable actors who never even were nominated for supporting or leading actor/actress prizes.

Pictured above is one of the more unfortunate cases: critics at the time and film historians agree that Roddy McDowall was a virtual lock for Best Supporting Actor in Cleopatra. However, a clerical error submitted him as a lead. Fox tried to rectify the mistake but the Academy wouldn’t allow it thus McDowall was not even nominated. An ad taken out by Fox apologizing for the oversight and commending McDowall’s performance was a poor consolation prize at best.

Best Non-Oscar Nominees

1. Christopher Lee
2. Bela Lugosi
3. Boris Karloff
4. Vincent Price
5. Edward G. Robinson
6. Mae West
7. Michael Keaton
8. Peter Lorre
9. Mel Gibson
10. Sonia Braga
11. Alan Rickman
12. Fernanda Torres
13. Roddy McDowall
14. John Barrymore
15. Joseph Cotten
16. Errol Flynn
17. Bob Hope
18. Lloyd Bridges
19. W.C. Fields
20. Lon Chaney, Jr.
21. Victor Mature
22. Conrad Veidt
23. Peter Cushing
24. Donald Sutherland
25. Eli Wallach
26. Robert Blake
27. Malcolm McDowell
28. Kurt Russell
29. Martin Sheen
30. Christopher Lloyd
31. Jeff Goldblum
32. Steve Buscemi
33. Kevin Bacon
34. Vincent D’Onofrio
35. Marilyn Monroe
36. Jean Harlow
37. Rita Hayworth
38. Myrna Loy
39. Hedy Lamarr
40. Tallulah Bankhead
41. Maureen O’ Sullivan
42. Betty Grable
43. Jane Russell
44. Jeanne Moreau
45. Barbara Steele
46. Mia Farrow
47. Margot Kidder
48. Jamie Lee Curtis
49. Meg Ryan
50. Ellen Barkin
51. Isabelle Huppert
52. Shelley Duvall
53. Madeline Stowe

61 Days of Halloween- Halloween II (1981)

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment so I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

Halloween II (1981)

Halloween II (Univeral Pictures)

What is interesting to note about the second Halloween film is that much like the Friday the 13th series it rewinds and replays the end of the previous film. This film does so to great affect because it doesn’t go back too far or splice it up it only backtracks the necessary amount to be able to continue the story in exact chronological order. So in the world of this film it is still October 31, 1978 and the film does a tremendous job in creating a very believable continuity in all aspects.

Much like the first film, and many horror films, there is an homage on a TV and you see clips from Night of the Living Dead.

Part of what makes this film interesting is that it starts with the media not yet having released that it is Michael Myers. So his legend is not yet re-popularized, which does mean you need to make a leap of faith when you see that someone is walking about dressed like him. The first seems to indicate the jumpsuit is acquired from a trucker. This potential hole aside the scene is still tremendously effective because later you do see the medical examination of the charred corpse and also because it ends up being Bennett Tramer, Lori’s crush who is merely mentioned in the first film.

This is also the first real taste you get of the vilification of Dr. Loomis. The police show a lot of, if not infallible, patience in the first film. Here Myers affects them personally and they lash out at Loomis.

The flow of news that’s being disseminated is very well handled from news stand ups to snippets overheard from a boom box. It reflects the widening of Myers’s scope. While this widening is well handled it’s part of what makes this film not quite the first. While it is very chilling throughout there was a certain sense of claustrophobia that was created by focusing on two babysitting assignments on either side of a street in the first film that is better and absent here.

The cinematography in this film is perhaps even better than the first. An advantage of the changed scope is that Dean Cundey is given a wider variety of canvases upon which to paint.

What propels the series in this edition is the twist it provides. It provides Michael both in the original and in this installment with motivation that goes beyond just simple revenge. It is also different as it provides a twist to the nature or identity of the victim as opposed to the villain.

There is more, however, which makes this a truly special film not only in horror but in the realm of sequels. This film also has an iconic moment, more a concept really, and that is finding the word “samhain” written in blood on an elementary school chalkboard.

What is perhaps best about the character of Lori Strode is that she always seems to very genuinely connect with the audience, which is not merely a function of her being played by Jamie Lee Curtis. It is also due in part to the fact that she very often reflects the audience’s thoughts: “He is the Boogeyman,” or in this film “Why won’t he die?” and because it’s Jamie Lee Curtis it sounds like a genuine question and not a punchline from an Austin Powers film.

Lori is also able to distract Michael long enough to get him offguard by showing she knows who he is. In what could’ve been a move that took it over the top Michael is shot in the head and blood runs out of his mask’s eye holes and represent the tears he cannot shed. It does work, however, because his action belies that seeming representation of emotion. However, he was stopped when he saw he was recognized.

This film also makes Loomis, despite all the failings he’s had whether they were his fault or not, its hero as he manages to stop Michael (or so it seems) even in the final confrontation there is a great image and moment to be had.

While it doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor it does do right by the story, concept and its characters.

8/10

61 Days of Halloween- Halloween (1978)

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment so I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

Halloween (1978)

At times it can be almost more difficult to write about a great movie than it can be to write a mediocre or terrible one. That, however, is not the case when it comes to John Carpenter’s Halloween.

So much in this film works to absolute perfection. It starts right off the bat with the theme. It is not only one of the best themes in the horror genre but in cinema and furthermore there are variations on it such that the entire score is fantastic.

The film starts, of course, with the brilliant prologue which shows Michael’s genesis. There is tremendous use of POV in this scene and also silently the character is being built. Many a horror villain are too chatty. What separates Myers and Voorhees is their silence which amplifies the fear factor. What sets Myers apart is that he never has anyone acting on his behalf he is always “evil incarnate” as Dr. Loomis calls him. Which helps make the prologue more shocking and why it lands high on this list (don’t follow the link if you haven’t seen the film).

The prologue ends in a near cinematic tableau as we are allowed to absorb the awe of what we just witnessed. The story recommences 15 years later. Loomis is introduced and immediately another brilliantly staged and crafted scene breaks out where you see Michael in his present state.

Following this is where Haddonfield and its characters are introduced. The first two sections are played in darkness but then Loomis chasing Michael, Loomis talking to authorities, Laurie Strode’s day and Michael’s following are played in daylight. Night falls for good in the 35th minute of the film and from thereon in horror film history is made.

It can not be overstated that what makes the most effective horror films nine times out of ten is building character and concept. Loomis both in trying to get people to understand what they’re dealing with reveals some of what his experience has been and how he’s become not so much jaded as aware.

What should not be overlooked is all the talk about the boogeyman. It may be too easy to slough this aside as childish nonsense, however, the film makes it perfectly clear by the end that it’s as good a description as you’re likely to get.

Part of what makes Michael Myers such an iconic figure is that he really does get under your skin. He watches you when you don’t realize it, when you think you caught him he vanishes and he comes out of nowhere with some of the best entrances you can ask for in cinema. It truly is spine-tingling stuff. Furthermore these entrances while accompanied by SFX and music don’t crank the volume up so loud that that’s what scares you. That’s what I call a false scare. In this film music and effects underscore what is scaring you which is Myers.

It’s hard to think of a third act in a horror film which has more memorable, shocking and iconic moments. There is Judith Myer’s tombstone, the double-scare corpses and the shadow lurking. Yet it doesn’t stop there. Right at the end there are four extraordinarily memorable moments which to not give too much away I will similarly label: He is the Boogeyman, The Unscored Moment (where the silence makes the visual even more frightening), Vanish and The Breathing Montage.

It’s about as well-crafted as a film, regardless of genre, can be. It spawned a slew of imitators and it attacks primal fears on so many levels. There’s not much like Halloween and even with the ups and downs of the franchise it is likely the best horror series ever.

10/10

Review- You Again

You Again is now available to stream on Netflix.

You Again is a film that ultimately sinks or swims on the strength of its actors’ performances and due to them it manages to stay afloat.

While the concept is not shockingly original what it did promise was the comedic possibilities of the mirrored stories of high school torment as experienced by both mother and daughter which are to be relived through coincidence brought to their attention by an upcoming family wedding. Where the film falls just a bit flat is that there could’ve been more balance between the disparate rivalries but ultimately it is overwhelmingly about younger set, which makes sense but there are a few issues there.

Now all that is not to say it isn’t funny. It does have its share of laughs. Certainly more than last weekend’s other offering, The Virginity Hit, it’s just matter of some squandered potential.

In terms of performances the four leading ladies certainly deserve their mention. Jamie Lee Curtis and Sigourney Weaver both play to their strengths from start to finish in roles seemingly tailor made for them. Curtis excels in her enthusiastic, slightly goofy and affable role and is a perfect foil to Weaver’s sophisticated, high society businesswoman who puts on airs. Their interaction is why you want more of them. Kristen Bell and Odette Yustman both do very well with their parts even if at the end the truthfulness and motivation of Yustman’s character is somewhat suspect.

The now seemingly standard Betty White appearance was as expected rather funny even with the gag at the end which was a bit much. However, the glue that holds the film together and in fact helps this film be more relatable to a male audience are Mark (Victor Garber) and Ben (Billy Unger). Not that I think that the label “chick flick” is completely apropos as these struggles in high school could just as easily be about men with some slight variations but the target is women. However, with Garber’s character, as Gail’s (Curtis’s) husband, who tries to but can’t quite grasp the situation and Ben, Gail’s son and Marni’s (Bell’s) younger brother, who lampoons the situation brilliantly stealing quite a few scenes along the way, it allows men to find characters with which the identify and ultimately it can bring a wider audience into the story as these characters get involved in the conflicts.

With a film of this type there is the almost mandatory scene where things all come tumbling down for the protagonist. However, I feel that the apparent defeat here is a bit undermined by the toast right before what Marni actually does orchestrate. Things play out such that she could’ve actually escaped with less of the blame and she came out looking better and less conniving than she would have and was intended. Had the start of the Third Act played out differently it might’ve had more impact.

You Again is a funny piece of escapist cinema that could’ve been a little bit more if only a few things had been different. Having said that there is still a good time to be had.

6/10