Movies watched, September 2017

I’ve long admired Khoi Vinh’s writing, and being a movie buff, I relished his “Movies Watched” blogs. So I’ve decided to rip him off and start writing my own blogs of the same sort, with more analysis and facts. I watch many movies, from a wide variety of directors, era, genre, language, and I take the endeavor somewhat-serious (read: obsessive) since I want to write and direct movies later, so I imagine and hope the reader will discover some movies he or she wouldn’t have otherwise.

IT was the big movie this month. Now the highest grossing R rated horror film. While most horror movies are one-dimensional, IT brought a full program: story, characters, dialogue, laughs, and scares; not just a good horror movie, IT was a good movie.

With Stephen King’s book, and the TV movie with Tim Curry, IT’s become pop culture so I won’t waste time on what the story’s about, instead let’s talk about its trailer.

IT had an exceptional trailer, covering the basics and then going beyond by adding to the experience of the movie. The basic job of a trailer is to draw moviegoers into seeing the movie while not giving too much away. Most trailers today ruin the movies they try to market by showing too much, which is why I avoid trailers. When you have directors telling audiences to not watch the trailers of their movies you know you have a broken system. It wasn’t always this way, here’s one of the best all-time: ALIEN.

Have a kid whose dreams of becoming an astronaut you want to crush? Show your kid this trailer.

But when I’m in the theatre and the trailers come on, what am I to do… plug my ears and cover my eyes? So I saw IT’s trailer. The trailer is a scene from the movie where The Losers have a projector setup in a garage to study an old map of the town so they can learn about the history of IT and their town, Derry. The projector malfunctions. Or seems to anyway, and it shows slides of a young girl from the 1800s with her face hidden beneath a victorian hood, even after they unplug the projector it carries on, and the projection slowly reveals the face beneath the hood to be IT. The end. And as we watched the movie, getting to the scene shown in the trailer, I lulled knowing what was going to happen — the scare of the scene is the reveal of IT’s face, which happened, and I thought that’d end the scene. But then IT came out of the fucking wall, which I didn’t expect at all. The trailer had established my expectations for the scene which the movie then twisted to its benefit for a bigger shock. In this way, the trailer added to the experience of the movie.

The funniest moment of the movie during my screening came during one of the most intense parts of the movie. With comedies and horrors the crowd can add a lot to the experience of seeing a movie at the theatre. At one point during the movie, a young boy named Richie creeps into a dark room crowded with clown toys and sheet-covered mannequins. He’s on the run from Pennywise who you expect is one of the dozens of clowns or is hidden under a sheet, and the tension was so tight I couldn’t help but utter Oh FUCK this! enkindling the biggest laugh of the movie from the nearby crowd.

The movie was well casted, with Bill Skarsgård and the kids, including my fellow Canadian Finn Wolfhard who is the man:

Bill: Derry started as a beaver trapping camp
Richie: Still is! Am I right, boys???

Skarsgård shared a funny story about working with young actors:

The first day of shooting, I’m working with this actor, Jack Grazer, who plays Eddie in the film. It’s a very intense physical scene where I’m an evil clown and I’m really going after it, you know? Those scenes can sometimes be pretty intense. I think the scene itself was kind of intense for Jack. It’s physical and it’s kind of a lot. After the first take, I tried to make sure he was okay. And he was really excited. He was like “Yeah, that was great, man! That was amazing! I love what you’re doing with the character!”

Anyway, great movie.

Horror, Stephen King, David Cronenberg.

Inspired by IT, a recent read of Stephen King’s On Writing, and watching his interviews on YouTube (I liked this one with him and John Grisham especially), I got into a mood for horror movies this month and watched a bunch of ’em, a genre I don’t watch often.

I started with Stephen King adaptions and switched over to David Cronenberg’s filmography, another fellow Canadian, whose HISTORY OF VIOLENCE and EASTERN PROMISES I’m a fan of yet hadn’t gone back to see his previous movies. Cronenberg was the first to make feature films in Canada back when the only movies made here were documentaries about farming on the prairies and fishing in the maritimes. I’m not surprised anymore when I learn a Canadian is behind something great, but 99% of the time they find their success as exports in the US. The remaining 1%, the interesting stories are the Canadians who’ve made their work on the home and native land, like Cronenberg, whose movies were mostly filmed in Toronto and financed by the Canadian government. Recently Netflix announced they’ve committed $500 million over 5 years on new Canadian productions and I hope he gets a chunk of that money. I also watched most of his interviews available on the internet, including this gem with John Carpenter and John Landis recorded at the same time that Cronenberg was filming VIDEODROME and Carpenter was filming THE THING. Cronenberg is very articulate, a deep thinker, and all his interviews make for interesting listening. In his interview with Wired, he takes the the first ten minutes to convince the interviewer of his geek credentials, including using the Dvorak keyboard layout and making a cardboard model of an iPhone 6S Plus and carrying it around in his pocket for a week to test whether if its size was suitable.

These are the movies I watched this month:

  • IT
  • CHARLEY VARRICK — Tarantino and Ellis praised the film in their podcast, making me want to rewatch it. I’m a big Walter Matheau fan. And Matheau and my Grandpa are doppelgängers.
  • DAYS OF THUNDER — Tarantino: “It’s like a fucking Sergio Leone movie with cars.”
  • MAN ON FIRE (2004) — Fun fact: The original ending had Denzel blowing up the bad guy with a bomb up his ass.
  • MAN ON FIRE (1987) — I was reading MAN ON FIRE (2004)’s IMDB Trivia page (which I do after watching every movie) and this fact interested me:
Writer Brian Helgeland first saw the original Man on Fire (1987) when he was renting videos in the late-’80s. He walked in to the video store where Quentin Tarantino was working, and asked what was good. Tarantino recommended Man on Fire.
  • HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE — Was staying at someone’s house and this was on TV. These later ones lack the magic of the first two.
  • HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PT. 2 — I’d forgotten how intense Snape’s death is.
  • HEARTS IN ATLANTIS — Good melancholy movie.
  • MISERY — One of the first horror movies I remember watching, probably because I thought I’d be a writer and grew up somewhere that looks similar to snowy Colorado, so it’s easy to imagine being Paul Sheldon. A perfectly casted movie. Kathie Bate’s performance as Annie Wilkes is haunting. I read that Warren Beattie, Jack Nicholson, Michael Douglas, and many other prominent actors turned down the role saying that the hobbling scene made Paul Sheldon “a loser for the rest of the film”. But James Caan did an excellent job, playing the role with a lot of range, including some good sarcastic gags.
  • DOLORES CLAIBORNE — Competent movie but lacked surprises.
  • MOTHER — For anyone that’s ever said: “I wish Hollywood made something different.” Here you go. The distributor defended the movie’s low box office with a refreshing, human statement without the typical PR BS:
“This movie is very audacious and brave. You are talking about a director at the top of his game, and an actress at the top her game. They made a movie that was intended to be bold,” says Paramount worldwide president of marketing and distribution Megan Colligan. “Everyone wants original filmmaking, and everyone celebrates Netflix when they tell a story no one else wants to tell. This is our version. We don’t want all movies to be safe. And it’s okay if some people don’t like it.”
  • MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE — The sole movie Stephen King has directed, he later admitted he was coked out of his mind making this movie. We can tell. There were moments of brilliance though and this is one movie where a remake would work, it’d fit the times with self-driving cars on the way. I liked the opening scene and the AC/DC soundtrack:
First half of the opening scene.

I read a funny fan theory that Pixar’s Cars movies were sequels to MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE, long after the cars had taken over.

  • VIDEODROME — Long live the new flesh! As someone who works remotely I empathize with the guy who recorded tons of monologues to play on TV and nobody knew he was long dead. This movie has probably three-to-five of the top ten most bizarre things I’ve seen on film.
  • THE DEAD RINGERS — This movie was made in 1988 but they pulled of the effect of having twin Jeremy Irons flawlessly. This movie is up there with my favorite Cronenberg movies, I’m looking forward to watching it again.
  • THE DEAD ZONE — Good movie. I’m a big Christopher Walken fan. The movie has a very Trump-like antagonist. Fun fact: The crew made the Niagara on the lake gazebo for this film, and the town liked it so much they kept it.
  • ACE VENTURA: WHEN NATURE CALLS — I constantly quoted and acted out scenes from this movie when I was young. It’s still hilarious, from start to finish. I prefer this one to the first.
  • ME, MYSELF, AND IRENE — Wish there was more screen time of the brothers with Charlie, they’re the funniest parts.
  • THE BROOD — Here’s a good read on how this movie is about Cronenberg’s divorce.
  • SCANNERS — One of the sickest exploding head effects ever, and it’s in the first ten minutes of the movie.
  • CRASH — This movie has three sex scenes in the first ten minutes. Cronenberg likes to start his movies with a bang, literally and figuratively.
  • KAGEMUSHA — I’ve watched so many movies it takes something special to give me that cinematic experience that’s a common occurrence when you’re a kid. One director whose films consistently gives me that feeling is Kurosawa, and KAGEMUSHA was no exception.
  • GERALD’S GAME — The movie pulls off being set in one place with one character. Is there a more disturbing word than “degloving”?
  • VANISHING POINT — Adam Key in an amazing review on IMDB:
Richard Sarafian’s 1971 film “Vanishing Point” is, for starters, a fascinating study of those persons anthropologists sometimes term “marginal men” — individuals caught between two powerful and competing cultures, sharing some important aspects of both but not a true part of either, and, as such, remain tragically confined to an often-painful existential loneliness. Inhabiting a sort of twilight zone between “here” and “there,” a sort of peculiar purgatory, these restless specters cannot find any peace or place, so they instead instinctively press madly on to some obscure and unknown destination, the relentless journey itself being the only reason and justification.
Disc jockey Super Soul (Cleavon Little) and delivery driver Kowalski (Barry Newman) are two of these specters, marginal but decent, intelligent men who can’t or won’t live in burgeoning competing cultures which in reality have offered them very little of worth or substance, despite their own personal sacrifices. Kowalski himself had tried to “fit in” with the Establishment as a soldier and police officer and later, attempted to do the same with the blossoming 1960s counterculture, but soon disappointingly found that they both were ridden with their own various forms of dishonesty and insincerity. Personal honor, self-reliance and genuine respect — Kowalski’s stock in trade — were tragically valued very little by either, despite each one’s shrill and haughty claims to the contrary.
Finally, VP is also a “fin de siecle” story, a unique requiem for a quickly dying age- a now all-but-disappeared one of truly open roads, endless speed for the joy of speed’s sake, of big, solid no-nonsense muscle cars, of taking radical chances, of living on the edge in a colorful world of endless possibility, seasoned with a large number and wide variety of all sorts of unusual characters, all of which had long made the USA a wonderful place — and sadly is no longer, having been supplanted by today’s swarms of sadistic, military-weaponed cop-thugs, obsessive and intrusive safety freaks, soulless toll plazas, smug yuppie SUV drivers, tedious carbon-copy latte towns, and a childish craving for perfect, high-fuel-efficiency safety and security.

The best movies I watched new to me were IT, KAGEMUSHA, VIDEODROME, and THE DEAD RINGERS. But any of these are worth a watch if you haven’t yet. See ya next month.