Film Thought: Showing Kids Jaws

As time moves on we must learn that things need to be contextualized. It takes no insight to show kids Jaws and sit there bemused as they’re unimpressed. The first thing that must be noted is that, in my case for example, Jaws wasn’t that old a movie when I saw it as a kid. Now things from five years ago may have the faint whiff of being dated already. I’ve caught myself thinking “Wow, that came out a while ago” about a fairly recent film.

The art, all arts, are evolving at ever-dizzying speeds because they have to to survive. That’s just the way things are. It’s not better, not worse, no judgment; just a fact. Therefore, Jaws is now an old film. Even I, who was a self-motivated film watcher needed, and relished hearing, the framework my favorite college professors  would create to establish what our mindset should optimally be going in. I was motivated to watch Citizen Kane on my own and Hitchcock and a few others and I got an innate sense for them. As I learned more film history and discovered more varieties and approaches. I benefitted from the brief intro.

Tendaciousness still will apply. You will like what you’ll like. I don’t care for The Social Network.  I am able to appreciate all the technical refinement and skill in the making of it. My background makes it such that I can ignore its departmental prowess. It cannot move me in any way as much as it tried, but I had the framework.

Jaws (1975, Universal)

Bringing it full circle to Jaws you can’t just put it on and say “watch this, it’s great.” You can’t really do that for any old movie, which it now is. Context before, and not during or after, is the only real way to ensure it may be appreciated. And, as is true with any kind of film, like what you like and let the kids respond to what they will.

One of the biggest fallacies around is the whole “you have to like this or you don’t like film” school of thought. Venture forth wisely, bringing some of your knowledge with you but your baggage with a film (good or bad) is yours, so don’t pass it on just try to help them see it the way you did once upon a time, even if it can no longer be looked at the same way.

Advertisements

1984 Blogathon: Devil Fish

Introduction

When deciding what to pick for a 1984-themed blogathon there were many great options. It was a great year. However, many of those were taken so I thought it’d be fun to go off the beaten path. At first I considered something foreign or very obscure. What ended up happening was that it turns out I had written about many of my favorites already. So that introduced a new possibility: something memorably bad; the only debate was “Do I want to write about two bad movies in a row?”

When I decided I did I was instantly surprised. Little did I know that when I chose Devil Fish there would be quite a few things about it to uncover that I had not known prior to starting on this post.

In the beginning, when I first saw it it was just another in the myriad of unfortunate works of cinema that Mystery Science Theatre 3000 introduced me to. Having revisited the film and asking myself questions like “Who wrote this?” and “Who directed this?” I came across some interesting answers that with more experience allowed me to better understand one of the eternal questions about bad films which is “What the hell happened there?”

So the first and most significant discovery I made regarding this film was that the director behind the credit of John Old, Jr. is in fact Lamberto Bava. This being the same Lamberto Bava of Macabre, and a film I have come to love when I just had to see it (as I wrote a short script in the same milieu) Demons. As it turns out he slapped a pseudonymous credit on a few of his works that were in the Italian low-budget rip-off arena. Fashioning this nom de plume after his father’s. Legendary Italian director Mario Bava had many great films but he did the occasional film he felt the need to take a John Old credit for.

Devil Fish is one of countless titles that have sought to cheaply gain an audience by playing off the popularity of Jaws, which will be eternal. I’m not one who tosses about the rip-off phrase about lightly. However, one can scarcely find a shark movie made after 1975 that doesn’t pattern itself after Jaws in some way, shape or form. This doesn’t have the failed tongue-in-cheek homages that say Sharknado has, but it definitely borrows liberally and was produced less than a decade after the original while Universal was still littering the landscape with subpar sequels.

Behind-The-Scenes

Devil Fish (1984, Cinema Shares International)

So that was one thing, but wait there’s more! As it turns out most of the behind-the-scenes talent took on pseudonyms as well. Usually in this case they are somewhat anglicized versions of their given names. For example, cinematographer Giancarlo Ferrando became John McFerrand. Now, one could try to argue that part of the attempt is to make the film seem more genuinely American-made. However, all of the cast doesn’t play ball and one of the go-to jokes for the MST3K crew was “We’re from Europe!” so no one was being fooled.

Beyond the names there are plenty of things to scratch your head about in wonder, or to at least note. Firstly, is that much in the Italian tradition actors came from all over the place and spoke several different languages while the camera rolled and then the dialogue was dubbed to create a uniform soundtrack. That by itself does not guarantee a bad film. I’ve seen well-dubbed works and many of the better low-budget Italian films were made the same way.

Getting back to the Jaws rip-off angle leads to one of the most infuriating parts of this film. There are several underwater shots that are supposed to tease the creature much like Bruce was scarcely seen. The problem here is that it is very difficult to decipher, at times, exactly what you are looking at. Instead of suspense all this builds is confusion, sighs and unintended humor.

The aforementioned John McFerrand’s score is one of the facets that heavily confuses the issue in this film. It sounds like the kind of antithetical music that makes a lot of giallo and Italian horror work but here it just seems to be terribly out of place, drown things out and distract from what the film is trying to accomplish. Just what that is at times is also confused, but you know what I mean.

Dialogue

Devil Fish (1984, Cinema Shares International)

What would a bad movie be without bad dialogue? It’s almost impossible. Much as great movies have memorable lines, bad movies do as well. A few gems that really stand out. Here are a few of those notable exchanges:

“Full of hate?”
“Hate.”
“Yes…That’s it….hate.”

“Do you think it was an accident or that she committed suicide?”
“I don’t know I think that’s for you to decide.”
“Yeah, right on. I think I’ll decide on suicide.”

“Lots of new things in this town lately waitresses, sharks, and ladies who call a taxi and take a bath.”

“A million years of solitude is a long time. I bet it’s just dying to boff something.”

Editing

Devil Fish (1984, Cinema Shares International)

In continuing the laundry list there is also a fair deal of editorial redundancy in this film. The uninspired editing is due to a number of factors namely the script and budget (which influences the tight schedule this film was made on). Aside from the vague shots of the fish that are supposed induce suspense there are also several shots cutting to Peter drinking repeatedly.

Those motifs aside there are mysterious individual cuts like a cutaway to slow-motion pan up phone line to a clock.

Some support for the effects of the schedule and budget can be found in a Michael Skopkiw online interview here:

I would love to know the definition or formula for a “cult classic”. Lamberto was a very nice, gentle guy as most of the Italians are. But you know, the budget on these films would prohibit a Ron Howard from making anything great! These directors are working with a cast from at least three different countries speaking diverse languages and a mixed crew of Italian /American production team on a very tight budget. Lamberto , like most of the foreign crew, loved coming to the States and drinking in as much of our culture as they could get. (The hills of Georgia have a unique personality somewhat portryed [sic] in this film.) We had a crisis one day as a holiday was approaching and the Iataian [sic] film crew wanted to get back to their families. We had been working for 13, I think, long consecutive days in freezing mountain water and adverse conditions and both the cast and Lamberto were wearing thin. The crew wanted to plow right through but I had a good talk with Lamberto and pointed out how the film suffered further if we just continued. He finally went to the producers and they gave us a day off (which they were contractually obliged to anyway). So he did have a heart and tried to do what he could with what he had.

However, the decisions are the decisions regardless of what forced them and many films have succeeded with small budgets and tight schedules, myriad examples of both exist running the gamut of genres.

Even when cuts aren’t technically awkward the narrative makes them aesthetically unintentionally comedic or uncomfortable like a cut from a dolphin to a legless corpse and a cross-cutting sequence between a sex scene (that’s fairly gratuitous) and a murder.

Blame

Devil Fish (1984, Cinema Shares International)

In terms of writing it could be the speed and the number of chefs in the kitchen that lead to a film that referring to as half-baked would be greatly generous.

As I’ve intimated before one cannot blame the inspiration for what the inspired do with it. Meaning that you can’t hold it against Psycho for the rash of slasher films that eventually took their cue from it. Similarly, Jaws cannot be held accountable for the rash of pale imitations telling tales of terrors from the deep.

Characterization

Devil Fish (1984, Cinema Shares International)

In this film the characters don’t really get established, they just are. If you need further evidence of this it gets reinforced later on when there’s a climactic scene, where the stakes should be high and the revelation is large and to an extent you’re confused as to who the parties are; therefore, you haven’t time to care about what they have to hide and what they have to gain.

Part of that has to do with how many characters there are and another part of it has to do with the dubbing. I’ve written on dubbing a few times. In short, my stance is that it can be an artform, there is a technique to it and it can be well done, but all too often it is not. In this film is most definitely a detriment. It’s not just about matching, but about performance, but when the same language is not being spoken on set you have a harder time creating a unified vision on film.

Backfiring

Devil Fish (1984, Cinema Shares International)

It seems almost impossible to say after all of this, however, all is not entirely lost in this film. However, in the true nature of this film that adds to the frustration instead of just imbuing a modicum of appreciation. There are themes that excised from the narratives are fine. There are permutations of the giant, monstrous fish tale that aren’t terrible.The isolated concept of manipulating science, the twists employed, underwater knife fights and not seeing the monster are fine when all has not already been lost. When the movie has already lost hope then these things just make it longer, more boring, unintentionally comedic and worse.

As if you needed further proof that there are things worth working with here this film was remade as Sharktopus on Syfy a few years back. Likely another wasteful effort, but there was something to mine there indeed.

Furthermore, touching on the aforementioned twist again, the mysteries this film plays hurt it. It’s a case where perhaps further, quicker revelation would have elevated it.

Conclusion

Devil Fish (1984, Cinema Shares International)

What is there to conclude about a film such as this? Not much different than other terrible movies that are of the MST3K ilk. I recall reading about The Beast of Yucca Flats and its making, or watching the special features on their take of Manos: Hands of Fate; what I got there was there’s always a story and that was the spirit I undertook this venture in. What was surprising was that I found more of a story than I expected. Having said all this, can I, as I did with Reefer Madness, recommend you watch this anyway? I can’t do so without aid from the Satellite of Love. Your tolerance for cheese has to be really high. If you want to see either Bava at their best I suggest you stray from titles where they were credited as being “Old,” unless you want to end up prematurely in that state yourself.

Best of Spielberg

Here’s a second installment of a list idea I’m borrowing from Brian Saur. Here I will discuss the films of Steven Spielberg. Spielberg is probably my favorite director of all time. I did an Ingmar Bergman list first, in part to track what I still needed to see. With Spielberg my impetus was to finally be up to date on his narrative features, which sadly I wasn’t.

As with any list, rankings may make thing seem worse than they are. There are 30 films on this list. Make no mistake I like 28 of them and am a snarky fanboy on one, and three have at one point been my all-time favorite, including my current number one (if pressed to answer). Here goes…

30. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World (1997, Universal)

This is the sequel Spielberg supposedly gave Universal so they’d leave E.T. alone. That’s almost enough to bump it past last place but I can’t. Even though I loved the score and effects it was still one of the worst, most confounding thing I saw that year. The third film and news of a fourth have softened that hurt, but seeing newly-introduced annoying character and the follow-up to my then favorite film of all-time relegated to a Godzilla/King Kong knock-off hurt.

29. 1941 (1979)

1941 (1979, Universal/Columbia)

I did try to like this. My professor tried to get me to like it. I just don’t. Spielberg doesn’t care much for it either and has moved on to bigger and better things.

28. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008, Paramount)

Nuking the fridge only happened in one scene people, Shia LaBeouf had many more scenes than that and Cate Blanchett seemed uncomfortable. Spielberg has since honestly confessed what his reservations were about this film. Hopefully that molds a better fifth film should it occur, though he certainly doesn’t need there to be one.

27. Amistad (1997)

Amistad (1997, Universal)

As oddly engaging as Spielberg’s restraint in Lincoln is, if memory serves, there was an attempt at such here too that doesn’t work quite as well. I remember Honsou and Hopkins impressed but not much else.

26. The Terminal (2004)

The Terminal (2004, DreamWorks)

Unlike Catch Me If You Can, which appears shortly, I wasn’t even compelled to go out and see this one theatrically. It’s an interesting and well-handled idea that I can indentify with on a few levels but it’s just not one of his best.

25. Twilight Zone: The Movie (segment 2) (1983)

The Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983, Paramount)

I saw this recently also and Spielberg’s segment fits him to a tee (residents of a retirement home become young again) and is the second best in the anthology in my estimation behind Joe Dante’s zany one.

24. Poltergeist (1982)

Poltergeist (1982, Paramount)

One can debate the nuances and politics of whether Spielberg really directed this. To be brief: I have it on good authority that he directed most of it and just didn’t take the credit because he couldn’t per DGA rules at the time. This is a title where I could rant and rave childishly about how “My opinion is different than yours!” but I won’t. Poltergeist is fine, it just never had a tremendous amount of impact on me.

23. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984, Paramount)

To address the white elephant in the room: I do not have any issue with the character of Shortround whatsoever. Temple of Doom lands here more for being the third best in the series and Kate Capshaw than anything else.

22. Catch Me if You Can (2002)

Catch Me If You Can (2002, DreamWorks)

This is one of those that falls into the category of “There’s nothing really wrong with it, I just can’t get into it.”

21. The Sugarland Express (1974)

The Sugarland Express (1974, Universe)

This is an unusual but involving one with a great turn by a young Goldie Hawn.

20. Always (1989)

Always (1989, Universal)

This one film I finally saw last year so as I could finally create this list. I had avoided it because in clips and trailers you could not get a sense of the totality of the film. It is Spielberg’s first remake, but it’s a fairly well modernized one that features Audrey Hepburn‘s final performance.

19. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977, Columbia)

Spielberg has said that the end of this film dates him as a filmmaker. I understand his point entirely but he does set it up very well. Also, in a bit of fanboy wish-fulfillment, I’d suggest the end of this film and the end of E.T. swap, but it is a very visual and evocative film with the added bonus of an acting-only participation by François Truffaut.

18. Hook (1991)

Hook (1991, Columbia)

The mark of a great director is making something that seems illogical, that shouldn’t be able to work, work. This is his best example ih that regard.

17. Minority Report (2002)

Minority Report (2002, DreamWorks)

If Robopocalypse, or something like it, ever comes to fruition it would complete a Dark Future Trilogy for Spielberg, which may seem antithetical to his ethos but something he said he’s not averse to when discussing A.I.

16. Munich (2005)

Munich (2005, DreamWorks)

I welcome departures from directors. Spielberg is perhaps more underrated in terms of his diversity than any other director. His hits and classics have commonalities to them such that it makes people think he repeats himself constantly. These two selections shake that notion massively. Munich is a dark film, where there can be no happy endings. It’s a chillingly rendered tale of an ugly incident in history that cannot be buried.

15. Lincoln (2012)

Lincoln (2012, DreamWorks)

Lincoln almost isn’t a Spielberg film, it plays with such classical restraint and removal that it’s almost anti-auteurish, but it’s still very engaging and convincing.

14. War of the Worlds (2005)

War of the Worlds (2005, Paramount)

I think this film might get overlooked in part because it stuck close to the source material, but also because it’s the kind of film Spielberg “should” take on. However, when you consider how often he’s made aliens benevolent a surviving an alien apocalypse tale is a little different for him. That and it’s another rather imperfect family.

13. Jaws (1975)

Jaws (1975, Universal)

Here’s where rankings can get you in trouble. Jaws is great. I have nothing I can say against it, except the intangible “I like other works in Spielberg’s canon a lot better.” I have and can see Jaws many times over. It’s just a matter of preference when you start slotting them.

12. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, Paramount)

Yes, the Indiana Jones and the was later tacked on. Spielberg and Lucas have combined perfectly three times in this series. They take a serialized approach to a feature and update classic tropes very well and memorably.

11. The Adventures of Tintin (2011)

The Adventures of Tintin (2011, Columbia/Paramount)

When Spielberg is at his best he combines technological innovation with great stories. Although I fell under the spell of seeing motion capture for the first time in The Polar Express, it was imperfectly ahead of his time and didn’t make a jump toward verisimilitude until this film. It’s a very viable tool other animation properties should and could use. Not only that it’s a great take and a global re-introduction of a beloved character. Not many directors go from live action to animation or vice versa, this is a seamless jump.

10. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989, Paramount)

I am a fan of the Indiana Jones series, albeit a Johnny Comelately to it, and this is my favorite one. More explanation can be found in the link above.

9. Duel (1971)

Duel (1971, Universal TV)

If there was ever a made-for-TV movie that prove that it’s a meaningless distinction, it’s this one. I have to remind myself it is one. Only once in a hundred times when I think about this movie do I recall that. It’s taut, brilliantly suspenseful and relatably frightening.

8. War Horse (2011)

War Horse (2011, DreamWorks)

War Horse is one I need to revisit, but this one vaults up the list due to improbability. Spielberg is one of the directors I go out and see regardless, however, I didn’t expect much here. I was anxious for Tintin, but this one shook up my whole best of the year list. Very surprisingly emotional and engaging.

7. The Color Purple (1985)

The Color Purple (1985, Warner Bros.)

One of the most embarrassing moments in Oscar history is perhaps the fact that this film is the biggest oh-fer, garnering eleven nominations and no wins. Spielberg created some controversy by even taking this film on. I think the end result proved he could do it and paved the way for his more mature dramatic works later on.

6. Empire of the Sun (1987)

Empire of the Sun (Warner Bros.)

I saw this in 2002 just after having taken my Spielberg course. I hadn’t really heard of it ’til then. It was referenced as Spielberg’s “most European film” by my professor and one that I began anticipating in A.I.-like fashion, which should’ve set me up for disappointment, but didn’t. It’s dense and takes some wading but when you get there it’s special. Not to mention there’s a brilliant performance by a young Christian Bale.

5. Schindler’s List (1993)

Schindler's List (1993, Universal)

The next two films are ones that I really admire, have great affection for, but am leery to revisit because they are taxing experiences. However, they’re important and I hope their legacy continues through oncoming generations. A while ago, I recall I saw a kid picking up Schindler’s List at a video store and it was heartwarming, as I saw a burgeoning cineaste.

4. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Saving Private Ryan (1998, DreamWorks)

It took me a while to see this one. The tale of saving the last surviving brother is the MacGuffin, a very Spielbergian one. However, the reaction I had to this film, though very different than many of his works, was one of the strongest I had. It was a new aesthetic for him and in many ways a revolutionary work.

3. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Nearly any child of the 80s grew up on Spielberg films. I will be doing a focus on Disney, which I surmise that unless you saw re-releases and VHS tapes you weren’t getting the golden age of that studio. However, if you grew up in the 80s, regardless of who you were, odds are every few years Spielberg changed your life. E.T. is an imaginary friend come true, it’s not necessarily always an alien, but many of us were Elliot, which is what makes it resonate.

2. Jurassic Park (1993)

Jurassic Park (1993, Universal)

Suffice it to say that upon its release, when I was still quite young, this was probably the most amazing theatrical experience I’d ever encountered. I’ve found myriad great films since then but this one has not lost its luster in the slightest. When I first saw it, this was the greatest film of my lifetime. It was the dream of every dinorsaur-loving child brought to life for better and for worse.

1. Artificial Intelligence: A.I. (2001)

Artificial Intelligence: A.I. (2001, DreamWorks)

I’ve already written a tome about this film, which I have posted on this site in installments. Making a new or different case for it would be nearly pointless.

Spielberg Sunday- 1941

John Belushi in 1941 (Universal/Columbia)

Owing to the fact that I have decided to honor Steven Spielberg this year with my version of a Lifetime Achievement Award I figured it was an appropriate time to dust off some old reviews I wrote when I took a course on his work. The remarks still hold true, he is an amazing filmmaker.

Here is concrete proof that comedy is unquestionably the hardest genre to succeed in. Without trying to get inside Spielberg’s head and trying to determine exactly what it was that he was trying to do with this film, one can look at it as is and be left scratching their head. It is at best funny in small patches and most definitely a humongous waste of talent both on and off camera. I applaud Spielberg for not only making a huge departure from his big successes (Close Encounters and Jaws) but also for poking fun at the latter in the opening sequence of the latter film. This stands out as one of the few truly comic sequences throughout a film that is plagued by many difficulties. This film especially pales in retrospect considering that I’ve laughed much more during his action/adventure and sci-fi films and this film doesn’t seem to make any sincere satirical jabs at the paranoia in the United States following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, nor does it really succeed at being a farce. In its better moments, which were few and far between, 1941 is hysterical. More often than not, however, 1941 is poorly executed slapstick, ham-handed, off-the-wall nonsense that follows the wrong characters and actors.

So that this isn’t a complete diatribe there are some wonderful performances to be found here but as I’ve mentioned above these people make their exit from the film much too early. Probably the best performance in this all-star cast is that of Slim Pickens. He delivers not only some of the best lines of the film but delivers them only as he could with that imitable voice of his. Elisha Cook is also there but that’s about all what strikes me as really being odd is how ill-utilized these actors were. Most of the cast was a mish-mash of SCTV and Saturday Night Live stars who really didn’t do anything noteworthy. Dan Aykroyd got to do some of his shtick but his performance was undermined by some stupid writing, when towards the end for no reason known to man he went bonkers and exclaimed, “I’m a bug,” while he had wrapped oranges over his eyes with pantyhose. It got worse though John Candy, one of the funniest people who ever lived was just there for seemingly no reason, it was as if the casting director went amuck knowing that Spielberg could get any actors he wanted and got big names to do meaningless roles. Another under used player was Joseph P. Flaherty who provided the film with one of its best lines following the USO riot (“Maybe in the future we could have some Negroes come in and we’ll have a race riot.”) was also hardly there. Then there was Belushi, who I’ve always found overrated, doing an annoying version of the Penguin from Batman. He was occasionally funny in this and in other roles but overall I was unimpressed.

The big problem this film had was that it was more likely to lose its audience before tying all the storylines together. The additional factor of having the last 45 minutes of the film being one explosion, crash or pratfall after another didn’t help much at all.

Another factor that didn’t help this film was that on home video (apparently this version is somewhat different than the theatrical release) it is 2 hours long, it’s very difficult to do a comedy that lasts more than 90 minutes long.

About the only thing that made me realize that this was a Spielberg film was the inclusion of the Dumbo screening, which was both fitting to the story and helped me make it through that part of that performance because it is one of Disney’s finer works. The score was also a non-entity that I didn’t even think Spielberg worked with John Williams. The writing was also schizophrenic, spotty and unusually unfunny most of the time and I was almost shocked to find that Robert Zemeckis had a hand in writing it. It’s as if everyone was embarrassed with the end result so that there were no opening credits only closing ones.

3/10

So You Wanna Win Best Picture?

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (Amblin)

To be clear this article is not meant in any way, shape or form to disparage the Academy. This list is aimed at the film enthusiast who may, as I used to, get a bit too worked up about who won or lost. Granted you will link your opinion to a sense of justice, however, it bears keeping in mind that below are 25 films all were nominated for Best Picture, did not win but all have a legacy stronger than most winners of the award. Ultimately, time, the public and critical re-appraisal are what determine the films that last, awards, while nice, are in the moment comparatively speaking. The Oscars are a great show and if something or someone you like wins it’s even better but if not it’s not the end of the world. The list below is evidence of that.

Films That Didn’t Win Best Picture

1. Citizen Kane
2. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
3. King Kong
4. The Wizard of Oz
5. The Color Purple
6. The Sixth Sense
7. The Maltese Falcon
8. Apocalypse Now
9. Raging Bull
10. Star Wars
11. JFK
12. A Few Good Men
13. Pulp Fiction
14. As Good As It Gets
15. Double Indemnity
16. It’s a Wonderful Life
17. High Noon
18. Miracle on 34th Street
19. The Ten Commandments
20. Dr. Strangelove
21. The Graduate
22. The Exorcist
23. Chinatown
24. Jaws
25. Taxi Driver

Franchises Which Could Use a Reboot

While I am no proponent of the rebooting trend there comes a point where screaming protestations does become tiresome, when even the biggest purist has to sit back and say “You know what? If this is the trend it may as well serve some kind of a purpose.” To that end here is a list of 10 film series that should be rebooted for one reason or another.

Rex Harrison in Dr. Doolittle (20th Century Fox)

10. Dr. Doolittle – This is another example Eddie Murphy’s sad decline ruining an altogether fine film concept. The Doctor Doolittle books by Hugh Lofting are magical and if adapted at the very least faithfully if not slavishly could certainly still be a huge hit and there is no reason it can’t start up again. Considering that the original 1967 rendition with Rex Harrison is mostly an afterthought it’s about time the series as written was done properly – installment by installment if possible.

Asterix & Obelix (Clement)

9. Asterix et Obelix – One of two foreign entries on this list. While there are animated versions of this popular comic available ad nauseum there are only two live action films and one can clearly see why. The story came across as stale and lacking in whimsy. Gerard Depardieu who was one of the leading men in cinema once upon a time comes across as a charmless, fat oaf and not Obelix. The cast and director should be scrapped. It can be done in France or anywhere for that matter as long as it lives up to the magic these stories that travel through history are capable of and with that theme story possibilities are endless since the source material already provides many of them.

In light of the worldwide box-office success and aesthetic triumph of Tintin motion capture would be a wonderful place for this series to go.

Daniel Cerny in Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (Dimension)

8. Children of the Corn – This is a series that has had a remake of the original. Now as it stands the original is fantastic. It is a quintessential 80s horror film and overall one of the better ones ever made simply due to its overall impact. Having said that the series of sequels that followed soon thereafter have watered down and bastardized the brand and the drop in quality from the original to the sequels is one of the most precipitous of any horror franchise ever (with few exceptions). For that reason I have placed the franchise on the list and it will be with a bit of curiosity that I will attend the remake to see if the franchise can be revitalized.

Zombie (Anchor Bay Entertainment)

7. Zombie – These are perhaps the films that Lucio Fulci, Italian giallo director, is best known for and it’s a mystery why. Slow-moving, sunlit and un-suspenseful when compared to Fulci’s best works. The occasional grossly unsettling make-up job is not enough to save any of the set-ups. These are a prime candidate for a relaunch. The island can be shot at night, or it could simply not be set on an island. Zombie films are all the rage for the time being find some other way to turn the genre on its ear under the zombie brand and it is sure to be a hit.

Jaws (Universal)

6. Jaws – Yes, Jaws is an absolute classic and should not be touched. There are reasons why the series is on the list. The series as a whole is very bad. Nothing that happened after Spielberg is any good and Hollywood has proven time and time again that absolutely nothing is sacred, not even Spielberg. A Poltergeist remake is in the works. So, theoretically, yes the Jaws series does belong here.

Samuel Costa in O Menino Maluquinho (Inter Filmes)

5. O Menino Maluquinho – This is the second foreign selection on this list and it is the film adaptation of the best-selling children’s book by Brazilian illustrator/author Ziraldo. The first film was absolutely wonderful and while not a literal adaptation it was most definitely one in spirit, which is the most important thing. There was a sequel which was good but not as good as the original as the cast was a little too old at this point to be believable in the story. However, with the character still popular in a daily comic strip it is easily a candidate for reboot. Brazilian audiences, especially younger ones are used to long series like Os Trapalhoes, and it would work perfectly if the kids were recast every few installments similar to the James Bond franchise.

4. Home Alone – This is another example of a series where it was the sequels failing the concept more so than the original. This is also one of those series where it’s one of the least necessary reboots but it’s the kind that makes you wonder why it hasn’t happened already, especially considering that it’s a John Hughes project Anyway, the second was regurgitation, the third was decent but weird in as much as it was just a continuation of the situation not characters or plot and the fourth was just painful.

Gremlins (Warner Bros.)

3. Gremlins – Yes, the first only was classic but they kind of dropped the ball. The sequel, though enjoyable, seemed like an afterthought and the time between the original and the follow-up could’ve contributed to its lack of success. It’s an idea that’s endlessly appealing and one of the best combinations of horror and comedy around while the film is an 80s classic there is no performance that’s irreplaceable so it’s surprising that studio executives haven’t jumped at the opportunity to jump-start this one.

Anthony Michael Hall, Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo and Dana Barron in Vacation (Warner Bros.)

2. National Lampoon’s Vacation – The Vacation films weren’t ever really designed to end. They’re all so great each one more memorable than the last and just silly. I think it’s a series that could easily come back into play by just having Rusty or Audrey go on a trip with their kids and have Grandpa and Grandma (Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo) along for the ride (Seriously, what else are they doing? And they should be doing something). With the last film being in 1989 there is so much socially and about the world that can be mocked, parodied or lampooned that wasn’t even in the public consciousness back then that it’s about time. People still laugh at the old ones and they would laugh at new ones too.

Leslie Nielsen in The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear (Paramount)

1. The Naked Gun – Yes, the 3rd film was called The Final Insult but those kinds of titles have been contradicted before. I think along with a new James Bond we should have new Frank Drebin pictures. This can be done in one of two ways one the old pulling the investigator out of retirement against his will ploy can be implemented or he could be unwillingly training his replacement. Either way good parody is a necessity and his were second to none and he should be leading, not making appearances in second rate attempts so the parents in the audience can have a good laugh.

Ideally, I’d have loved the late great Leslie Nielsen to have been involved but the fact of the matter remains that the parody film is fast becoming a lost art of the comedy genre and perhaps a classic vehicle is needed to revive it with the right people in place.

Review- Creature

Serinda Swan and Mehcad Brooks in Creature (The Bubble Factory)

Creature. What does Creature do right? What is Creature? Why does Creature exist and why was it released to 1,507 screens? Why did I watch Creature? These are all questions I asked myself while watching this film.

To answer the first question there’s not much this film does right at all. It’s the kind of film that thinks character development is giving someone a piece of dialogue in which they say something weird and it never gets explained or an inside joke is shared and we never get let in. A film can overcome the shortcomings of its cast with its narrative, technical proficiency and artistry. There is very little of that so I’m left watching a cast that might have been rejected for Final Destination 5.

So it ends up being the worst permutation of all horror films: one wherein you actually want all the characters dead but know they likely will survive. The characters are for the most part as annoying as the actors. To be fair there are but two positive developments: one is a twist and the other is that Niles played by Mehcad Brooks emerges as someone watchable and that you can almost pull for. In the end he’s like a poor-man’s Duane Jones (Night of the Living Dead) but this movie is nowhere near a classic.

The edit of this film is painful. At a climactic moment there are so many cutaways that it goes beyond foreshadowing to bludgeoning you with obviousness. The film is also riddled with nonsensical dissolves and cuts and worse yet cutaways were you know they’re not showing an entry wound to save money.

Despite the fact that I did manage to find some good things to say about it about I was tempted to walk out of this film due to its sheer crappiness. This was right before the aforementioned twist. A twist which does not absolve most of the characters of their stupidity and is therefore wasted.

Stupidity rears its ugly head in a big way at least twice in this film and it’s truly insufferable. In Fright Night I discuss one of the paradigms of modern horror being about disbelief, well stupidity is another. Any horror fan cut their teeth on films where screaming girls run upstairs and trap themselves when a killer is chasing them. It was fine for a time but we’ve grown tired of it. These kids willingly seek out the local lore to mock it and become endangered. It doesn’t engender sympathy.

Then there’s the Phantom Menace, I mean, The Creature. It may be the best thing going for it but it’s consistently, purposefully under-exposed like they’re giving it the Jaws treatment sans theme song through most of it. It doesn’t make it scarier, when it’s revealed it’s laughable.

As if the creature’s lack of ferocity isn’t bad enough the film is like softcore porn at times.

To address one of my initial questions about how wide the release was my only guess is that it’s a kind of reverse psychology. Now it’s the biggest bomb of all-time and everyone with a morbid streak will want to see it on video.

1/10

61 Days of Halloween- It! The Terror from Beyond Space

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.

It! The Terror from Beyond Space

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like if the film Alien was made in the 1950s well then It! The Terror from Beyond Space is for you. When you boil it down the premise is the same: an alien being is on a spacecraft and is attacking the crew. The treatment is different, however, but no less compelling.

Firstly, it bears mentioning that being made in the 1950s all the sci-fi trappings of the age are there to an extent but it is all very well done. Most of the would-be effects are shot practically and look pretty darn impressive from the planet to the launch to the spacewalk. The creature is also another great example of filmmaking at the time and is a really effective suit.

The claustrophobic environment of the tale is really what makes it excel. What kicks it off though is that this is a rescue mission and one man is being transported back to Washington to a face a court martial as he is suspected of murder and the stories of a monster are dismissed. This is a great dramatic device to kickstart the tale.

It also introduces a frame to the tale as the film starts and ends with a press conference first stating the mission of the newly launched ship and then announcing the findings the crew reported and placing an appropriate coda on the film.

Another interesting technique is that like in Jaws there are sparing glimpses of the creature at first. Only seeing its feet or the damage it left behind or hearing it down below the main level. It allows for the imagination to actively engage in the tale.

Once all the crew members believe there is a creature you almost always hear it or know where it is giving this creature near omnipresence in the tale which is rare.

The conclusion of this tale is also very satisfying not only in the clever manner in which the creature is defeated but also with the news conference coda which allows for one last scare in the film as only could be done in the 1950s. It is definitely worth viewing.

8/10

Review- Super 8

Gabriel Basso, Ryan Lee, Joel Courtney and Riley Griffiths in Super 8 (Paramount)

What I really want to know is what kind of alchemy is this? What sort of magic have Spielberg and Abrams been able to muster? A magic so mind-boggling that I’ve hardly been able to make sense of it until now. What I speak of is the fact that in Super 8 they’ve managed a seemingly innumerable amount of tricks that are baffling.

Firstly, watching this film is almost like being in a dreamlike state, the truest definition of mesmerizing because it’s as if it plays in a seemingly endless and consistent flow that’s always operating at the right speed. It’s the rare period film that actually feels like a film from the period it’s representing and it also so seamlessly and with no fuss whatsoever incorporates us in the world of the narrative such that it almost feels like a film you’ve seen before. Rest assured I’m not describing something that can be construed as being derivative (I’ll address that) it feels like an old favorite just minutes in.

There are few ideas that can be described as startlingly original, so everything boils down to execution and choices. In short, you can compare almost any film to a handful of others and this film will conjure the images of others, however, there is something to be said for what films you’re being compared to. Super 8 is garnering comparisons to The Goonies, The Monster Squad and Stand by Me and it’s better than the first two and as for the last one, there’s such a genre difference it’s really all about what’s your cup of tea.

One startling similarity it does share with Stand by Me is a bit more intangible in nature and it’s this: rarely do you see kids portrayed on screen not only so well as characters but also as friends to the extent that you forget they’re actors at points and you see them as people. There’s a level of ease, naturalness and comfort this core have with one another that jumps off the screen and brings you into the story such that even though some may be recognizable you think of them as real kids. The easiest way to engage an audience of all ages to a story driven by kids is to get them to identify and think “Yeah, I would’ve been like that kid in this situation” and this film nails that.

Just the fact that this foursome, the main one as Preston (Zach Mills) is funny, well-portrayed and has his own quirks but doesn’t join the “adventure” portion, (Joel Courtney, Riley Griffiths, Ryan Lee and Gabriel Basso) can call to mind Stand by Me when they have two actors (Courtney and Griffiths) amongst them earning his first credit is darn impressive (as opposed to one for Stand by Me [Jerry O’Connell]). The wealth being pretty evenly distributed for moments: Lee easily has the most laughs with his pyromaniac slant but one of Basso’s lines got spontaneous applause at my screening. Griffiths and Courtney both had their types to play and played them very well well and with dimension; both being rather expressive and showing a good range of emotion.

Not to mention this film has an additional facet which is that of Alice played by Elle Fanning. So it is a boys’ club to an extent and an adventurous film with wise-cracking and ribbing but there’s some romance and additional drama thrown into the mix when Alice is cast in their Super 8 film and she in essence becomes one of the gang after the train derailment. Fanning is one of the aforementioned familiar faces and she does much more than hold her own in this film but rather shines.

While I give J.J. Abrams all the credit he’s due for doing such an outstanding job on this film it does also have Spielberg’s indelible fingerprints all over it also and I think they found a story they were quite simpatico on and connected to make something outstanding. There were Spielbergian visual signatures throughout making it feel every bit as much his film as Abrams’.

One such Spielbergian trait at play was similar to Jaws in as much as the creature remained unseen or seen only in part for much of the film and the tension, drama and fright caused by an attack doesn’t dissipate due to this fact but rather is heightened. While the mystery of its intent is shrouded so is the creature itself.

The additional benefit that comes from hiding the creature is that it didn’t create a lot of additional animation for CG artists. When the creature does finally reveal itself in full I didn’t think of the CG work for a second. First, because it was so well done and second because I was so enraptured.

This enrapturing made possible more easily by the fact that the film, as mentioned before, is mesmerizing but what people fail to note when using that term is that when literally mesmerized, hypnotized, all sense of time escapes you and this film felt like it was done nearly in the blink of an eye. It’s not that the pace is breakneck, as I indicated earlier it’s always correct, but it’s enveloping.

Since I heard of this film, and with each subsequent ad (minus the viral video I heard about today), I’ve reiterated that I think all films should be advertised as this one is: Give me images, just enough to get me intrigued and have me say “Ooh, What’s that about? I want to see that!” Almost any film can be marketed that way such that you’re left thinking “Wow, that’s going to be so awesome!” but few and far between are those that really are that awesome, but Super 8 is.

10/10