Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Monsterpiece Theater: Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee- Beyond Hammer

by Rustbelt

When someone mentions Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, two words often come to mind: “Tarkin” and “Dooku.” Ah, Millennials…I’d weep for them, but I choose not to. The other two words commonly associated with this famous duo are “Hammer Studios.”

Indeed, they were the original stars that put Hammer on the map. Or did Hammer offer them the breaks they needed by playing, respectively, Baron Frankenstein and Count Dracula? Here are my reviews from previous years covering Frankenstein and Dracula. I’ll let you decide. But in addition to sequels of those particular films, the two also starred in Hammer’s versions of The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Mummy, among many others. But neither actor limited themselves to just Hammer. They branched out into movies for other studios as well.

The Skull (Amicus, 1965)

Plot: In 1814, on the grounds of the Charenton Lunatic Asylum in France, a group of men dig up a grave and decapitate the corpse within. The leader (Maurice Good) takes the head home and encounters his girlfriend (April Olrich), who is conveniently taking a bath and showing as much skin as the British Board of Censors will allow. (Oh, Amicus! You REALLY want to be Hammer, didn’t you?) The man rebuffs her, takes the head into another room, and gives it a chemical bath that leaves only the skull. Noticing strange vapors, the girlfriend breaks in and finds the man dead.
We then jump ahead to present-day 1960’s at an auction house in London presided over by Michael Gough. Rival, though friendly, occult item collectors Dr. Christopher Maitland (Cushing) and Sir Matthew Phillips (Lee) vie for a collection of demonic statues, with Phillips winning by heavily overpaying.

That night, Maitland is visited by shady occult items dealer Marco (Patrick Wymark), who sells him a book about the Marquis de Sade which has binding made of human flesh. The next night Marco returns with a skull to sell. When the asking price is deemed too high, he explains that it is the skull of de Sade. He then tells us that de Sade’s skull was stolen by a phrenologist for examination, but he and his girlfriend died soon after. Maitland still refuses because of the price.
Later, while playing pool with Phillips, Phillips tells Maitland that the skull is real and that it was stolen from him. He’s also glad that it’s gone. He says it’s possessed by an evil spirit that made him buy the statues. (It specifically needed the figure of Balberith- the demon who tempts men to commit murder.) He warns Maitland to avoid the skull at all costs, especially during the new moon- the night of Devil worship when the skulls spirits gather around it.
Maitland, however, soon finds his mind invaded. He has a nightmare where policemen arrest him, a judge forces him to play Russion roulette, and he encounters the skull. Ignoring Phillips’ advice, he goes to Marco’s apartment…er, um. Sorry. British film. His flat, with plans to steal the skull, but also finds Marco mysteriously dead. After avoiding the police, Maitland steals the skull, but kills the landlord (Peter Woodthorpe) in the process. Later, the skull ‘commands’ Maitland to steal the Balberith statue, and Phillips is killed as well. Finally, the skull compels Maitland to kill his wife (Jill Bennett), but he resists and stabs the skull instead. As punishment, the skull floats through Mailand’s house, cornering and killing him as well. The film ends as the skull ‘watches’ the befuddled policemen who investigate the latest murder.
Thoughts and Background: I’m a little biased because this is the one earliest non-Star Wars films I ever saw starring Cushing and Lee. Therefore, it’s full of ghoulish nostalgia for me. Interestingly, this is based on the short story, The Skull of the Marquis de Sade, by Robert Bloch, author of Psycho. And in a strange twist, there ARE some facts at work here. The skull of the Marquis de Sade was, according to several accounts, exhumed at the loony bin where he’d been locked up for the last decades of his life for phrenological study. (For those not in the know, he was an 18th-century French aristocrat known known for torturing friends and servants for pleasure and then writing about the joys of sexual perversions. His name is where we get the word ‘sadism.’) The skull was later lost.

The film is quite enjoyable. The only drawback is how long some of the sequences are. Director Freddie Francis claimed that the screenwriter only gave him an outline and much of the dialogue had to be made up on the spot. Francis was a former cinematographer and it seems he tried to make up lack of a script with long, carefully-filmed sequences. Still, the film is well-paced and provides enough material for the actors to work with. A good watch for late on Friday or Saturday night.

Cushing (as Dr. Christopher Maitland): This is definitely Cushing’s film. His character studies the occult while believing in none of it. This skepticism makes him vulnerable to ignoring advice. Later, when the skull takes over, Cushing shows his acting chops by alternately displaying blank possession, rage, conflict (when he refuses to kill his wife), and, finally, abject terror when the skull attacks. It really makes you feel for a man who, though a foolish academic, is clearly trying to fight the demonic forces taking him over.

Lee (as Sir Matthew Phillips): More of a cameo role in this one. Lee’s scenes are few, but effective. He also gets to display something rarely seen from him on film: concern and empathy. It’s a rare non-villainous role for him. Following his own experiences with the skull, he begs Cushing’s character to get rid of the skull and save himself. Of course, Cushing’s character ignores him. (Personally, if Christopher Lee told me not to do something, I’d obey pretty quickly.)

Did You Notice…? The last 25 minutes of this film are mostly silent. It’s easy to overlook. I only really took this to heart after reading an interview with the screenwriter of Carnival of Souls. That film is also mostly silent, but, like The Skull, it can be hard to tell because of the effective soundtrack. Whereas Carnival relied mostly on atmosphere, Skull relied on Cushing’s expressions to convey the action without dialogue. Thank goodness British actors are taught to ‘act with the face.’

Horror Express (Granada Films, 1972)

Plot: Our story begins in China in 1906. Professor Sir Alexander Saxton (Lee) has just completed an expedition in the mountains where he found a fossil that could be the famed ‘missing link.’ When he arrives at the train station to board the Trans-Siberian Express, a thief is killed trying to break into the crate containing the statue. His eyes are left white and bleeding. A Rasputin-esque monk named Pujardov (Alberto de Mendoza) declares the crate evil, as he can’t draw a cross on it with chalk. Saxton still orders the crate be taken on board.
Not long after departure, Saxton’s rival, Dr. Wells (Cushing), after hearing what he thought to be something alive in the crate, bribes a baggage man to look inside. The baggage man disappears, and is later found inside the crate with the same bleeding, white eyes.

Soon, the creature kills a spy and is gunned down, but not before possessing Inspector Mirov (Julio Peña). In the meantime, Saxton and Wells examine the dead bodies and the eyes of the creature. They conclude that it drained its victims’ brains of knowledge through its eyes, and that it could even transport its consciousness through this method, which they later learn can only be done in the dark. (The ape creature was just a host.) Soon after, several more people die and the train telegrapher alerts the Russian authorities.
The train is eventually stopped and boarded by a company of Cossack soldiers led by Captain Kazan (Telly Salvalas). Before you can say “who loves you, baby?” (Oh, come on! How could I resist?), he turns his attention to the suspicious Mirov, who is confirmed to be the creature when his eyes glow red in the dark. The creature transfers himself into the weak-willed and cowardly Pujarnov, who has switched his alliance from God to the Devil.

The Pujarnov-creature is then confronted by Saxton in the front of the train and begs to be let go, declaring itself to be a being of pure energy from beyond the world. He also forces Saxton’s hand by raising all of the people he killed. Saxton and Wells move everyone into a rear car while avoiding the zombies and then release the car’s latch. The engine steams onto a dead-end track (re-touted by Tsarist authorities afraid the train was taken over by revolutionaries) and crashes, killing the creature.

Thoughts and Background: That was a tough plot to summarize. At its heart, this film is based on the 1938 short story Who Goes There? By John W. Campbell; the same source material for John Carpenter’s The Thing, so any similarities of an alien assuming other peoples’ identities for survival is not coincidental.

This is a very enjoyable film with a unique setting. It makes me wonder how people with far more limited scientific knowledge and technology (compared to today), would fare against a creature like this. Speaking of the setting, there’s a long-standing rumor that this film was made with sets left over from either Doctor Zhivago or Nicholas and Alexandra. Producer Bernard Gordon denied this, saying that while items from Pancho Villa were used, only stage was available, so each car set had to be built and all scenes shot before they could move onto the next part of the train, rather than the script.
The film is also quite unsettling and philosophical. It features several grisly autopsy scenes and the scenes of the white, bleeding eyes are disturbingly effective. The film also has characters debating science and faith while trying to determine the creature’s origin. (See below.)

I should also mention the performance by Savalas. He doesn’t try to sound Russian at all, but comes off sounding and acting like Kojak. (Odd, since Kojak was still a year away.) Yet, he dominates the screen when he’s on it and actually has the two lead actors vying for our attention with him. That’s not easy to do.

Cushing (as Dr. Wells): Cushing has a somewhat happy-go-lucky role, at least at first. He merrily greets Saxton at the train station and even comforts a beautiful lady who needs a room on the train. (She later turns out to be a spy). All in all, it looks like Cushing got to have a lot of fun here. Except he probably didn’t. Cushing almost didn’t make this movie. His wife, Helen, died a few months before filming and left him devastated. When he arrived in Madrid, he almost quit, feeling it was too soon to resume acting. Only the encouragement of his BFF Christopher Lee got him to stay and do the film.
Lee (as Professor Sir Alexander Saxton): Lee is more back to form in this film as a dominating character who demands that he be obeyed no matter what. However, he actually makes the transition from slightly villainous to determined protagonist after the creature escapes and he and Wells need to team up to stop the creature. You kind of get the feeling that his character got humbled after creature’s breakout and that he was, in fact, capable of putting his ego aside when the situation required.
What was the creature, anyway? On the surface, I suppose it is meant to be an alien. This is mostly a sci-fi film, after all. There are several things to support this. For one thing, the creature is confirmed to be an energy being, a different form of life. It also claims to have come with others millions of years ago and- a la E.T.- was accidentally left behind. It even seeks out to drain scientists and engineers on the train whose knowledge could be used to allow it to travel back to space.
However, it could also be supernatural, even demonic. As mentioned, the monk fails to draw a cross on the crate containing the creature. Later, a crucifix falls from a wall when the possessed Mirov walks near it. Finally, the creature tells Saxton that if he lets it go, it’ll give him all the knowledge it has collected over the years- a true Faustian pact. Also, the scene where the dead are raised as zombies could be either an unknown scientific process, or the creature’s command over the souls it has killed. Tough question to answer, IMO.

The Creeping Flesh (World Film Service, 1973)

Plot: The film starts with shots of a demonic abstract painting. The camera then pans out to show a scientist is painting it in his lab. He then informs a visiting scientist that he needs help in stopping an evil he accidentally unleashed on the world and begins his story.
The year is 1894, and professor Emmanuel Hildern (Cushing) has just returned from New Guinea with a skeleton that he believes will help him solve the riddles of evolution. Even better, the results from this discovery should help him win the Richter Prize, whose £10,000 will also solve his financial problems.

But bad news intervenes: Emmanuel learns his wife, long imprisoned for mental illness, died while he was away. Also, his angrily frustrated half-brother James Hildern (Lee)- who runs the asylum where Emmanuel’s wife was locked up- plans to try for the Richter Prize himself and will no longer fund his half-brother’s expeditions.
Emmanuel returns home and accidentally discovers that pouring water on the skeleton’s finger causes it regrow flesh. He cuts off the finger and, after examining its blood, determines the creature to contain evil in viral form, thus proving a theory he’d been working on. He and his assistant then try to create a vaccine to protect people from evil. However, personal life intervenes when Emmanuel’s daughter Penelope (Lorna Heilbron) breaks into her mother’s room and learns that her mother was a beer hall dancer. (Emmanuel had lied to her that her mother died years ago and told her nothing of her mother.) Remembering his wife’s mental downfall and fearing that Penelope may come down her mother’s hereditary insanity, Emmanuel injects her with the unperfected vaccine.

At this point, all Hell breaks loose. The monkey Emmanuel tested the vaccine on in the lab goes crazy and kills itself. Penelope steals her mother’s clothes and heads for London’s East End. Mistaken for a prostitute, she attacks several men and kills a lunatic (Kenneth Warren) who escaped from James’ asylum.

Penelope is taken to James’ asylum and James blackmails Emmanuel. In return for all of Emmanuel’s research, he promises not to reveal Penelope’s guilt to the authorities. But it’s not enough. James hires a thief to steal the skeleton. In the process, rain falls and the creature gains flesh and lives. It eventually tracks down Emmanuel and breaks off his finger- the same one he removed from it.
The scene returns to the lab from the start. Only, the younger scientist leaves and locks Emmanuel inside. James tells the young man that Emmanuel is crazy and claims they’re related. The final shot shows Emmanuel in a typical cell, begging for help and missing a finger.

Thoughts and Background: Whew! That summary was a doozy. Of all the films in this article, this was easily the creepiest. Freddie Francis is back in the director’s chair and he’s greatly improved since The Skull. Though some scenes- like Penelope running through Whitechapel, the ending carriage scene, etc.- seem a little long, he puts his cinematography skills to good use here. It’s a forgone conclusion that the film didn’t have the budget to fully show the monster here. Francis solves that by cloaking the creature in a shroud and shooting it from a distance that makes it look like the Grim Reaper- a fitting allusion. He also uses shots of the creature’s shadow outside Emmanuel’s mansion, growing larger as it approaches. This mirrors the gradual loss of light noticeable throughout the course of the film.
Moreover, the film goes from idyllic home settings to the filth of Whitechapel and the draconian experiments being carried out by James (probably based on real-life experiments of the time). It gives the movie the feeling of a world collapsing in on itself. It’s all very unsettling and an excellent example of a low-budget crew coming up with creative ways to create an atmosphere where talented actors can complete the creepy tale.

Cushing (as Emmanuel Hildern): Here, Cushing’s job is to play a control freak whose life is falling apart just as he may have found the solution to his problems. Though he has lied to his daughter about her mother and milked his half-brother for funds, you can’t help but feel for him. You feel that he had good (though misguided) reasons for his actions, and it truly hurts as the film goes on. He loses his daughter to insanity, loses his discovery to his immoral half-brother, his assistant is killed, and he’s attacked by the creature at the end. Cushing is so good at evoking sympathy that I couldn’t help but groan, “Come on! Give this poor guy a break!” It all adds a tragic element that can keep viewers much longer than most films of this time would be able to.
Note: The subplot involving Cushing’s character mourning his dead wife became a common theme for Cushing. A widower after 1971, he said he simply understood the grief and had no problem showing it as part of the plots in his films. In fact, he often dedicated such performances to his late wife.
Lee (as James Hildern): Lee now takes on a fully villainous role. At first, when he informs Emmanuel that he intends to take the Richter prize for himself, he seems like just another typical Ebenezer Scrooge-type character. But when he blackmails Emmanuel over Penelope’s sudden insanity, he reaches a new level. Reputation was everything in Victorian society, so James is punching Emmanuel right in the stomach. Seriously, I hated this character and wanted him to get what he deserved. But this is one of those cruel horror movies that gives you a logical, though gut-wrenching conclusion. Speaking of which…

About that Ending… Is that really how it ended? OK, truth be told, I actually read a synopsis of this film before getting around to it and thought to myself, “the ending is straight out of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari!” In that film, (see above ‘Dracula’ link), the main character is revealed to be an asylum inmate and his nemesis, Dr. Caligari, to be the man running the asylum. Here, we have almost the same ending. But was it real? Or was it all Emmanuel’s madness?

Well, it could be real. Emmanuel and Penelope were clearly nuts at the end and would’ve been locked up. He’s also missing his finger. Furthermore, James says that Emmanuel has been there for three years, and was locked up when he (James) won the Richter Prize. Perhaps James did steal Emmanuel’s research and win. As for his denial of his family (he claims that Emmanuel foolishly believes that he is his half-brother and Penelope is his daughter), that could just be him cruelly covering up a potential scandal- an already-established theme of the film.
But could it be madness. The whole story, we’re told, is recounted by Emmanuel. He could easily have added everyone he sees daily- including James and Penelope- along with his mutilated hand into his tale. In his hostility to his jailor, he may also have invented the idea of James stealing the research needed to win the Richter Prize. Plus, remember the Dr. Caligari thing I noticed? Well, the painting in the cell is in an abstract style that seems similar to the German Expressionism used in Caligari. Subliminal hint? Maybe.
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Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Monsterpiece Theater: From Across the Pond!

by Rustbelt

My friends, the Haunting Season is upon us again!
And this year we will be covering, um…um…

Oh, blast. It seems I’ve written myself into a corner over the last two years. I really liked how we spent an entire season on one book last year. Problem is, I covered four classic books the year before! I think I’ve run out of classics! (At least what I consider classics.) Oh, the lack of foresight. What to do? What to do? Hold on a moment…

Well, I still want to keep the theme-style format going. I suppose this year we’ll have to leave the printed page and go with a different kind of theme. Maybe a focus on actors. Sound good? Oh, not quite enough. I see. Well, how about a famous duo? Ah, good.

Hm. Who could we choose? You know, I have an idea. It just popped in there. First of all, these two would need to have range…
Gotta have style…
Should be fairly well known…
And have genuine horror experience…
The choice is made!

The Traveler has come!

Oh, and this year’s edition will feature films starring the man made famous on screen by turning people into corpses by draining their blood, and his BFF, the man horror fans know best for bringing said corpses back to ghastly, hideous life whether they wanted it or not.

So, let’s have a jolly- and creepy- good time with the October of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee!

[+]

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Film Friday: Ghostbusters: Answer The Call (2016)

I'm always leery of watching a parody of a classic film because there is always the danger that the parody will expose that one problem you always overlooked and suddenly you can't see the original without seeing the parody. There's no danger of that here, however. This film steals every single idea from Ghostbusters and a few from Men in Black, but handles them so poorly you'll never connect it with the originals. What? This wasn't a parody? Huh. Ok. What was it then?

It was a cash grab.


The story starts with a chick professor not getting tenure at her college because she wrote a book about ghosts a decade ago. This is not even close to believable. To fix this, she goes to the fat chick to make her stop selling the book at Amazon. Fat jokes ensue as Fat Girl argues with the Chinese delivery man. A minute or so into this, we have our first fart joke, which Judd Apatow's ghost turns into a female-front-side "fart" joke. And we're off on our magical journey.
From this point, we meet the lesbian chick and the black chick and we go through every single plot point from the original Ghostbusters film only done far less interestingly and far less competently. In a series of scenes, the girls get fired from their college, move into a new building, get a car, round up a ghost, do a much-used crowd surfing joke, hire a stupid secretary, meet the mayor, and fight the villain. As they do this, we are bored with treated to an origin story of every piece of hardware, every bit of music, every character, and every original image from the original Ghostbusters. We are also abused with treated to cameos from each of the original characters in the first film. In fact, there are so many it starts to feel like that is why they made the film.
Eventually, they beat the villain while blowing up a building in New York City and then the film ends with them as ambiguous heroes while Eyecandy Boy eats a sandwich and you wonder how to get the time you lost back.


So where do we start to discuss this turd? Well, let's start with this. If you thought Bridesmaids was great, then this is probably the film for you. It's vapid, childish, tired and completely stolen. No new ground will be trod. The scenes bump together reasonable well, and they do so without asking you to use your brain. They just lurch from fat jokes to black jokes to fart jokes to sexism jokes to "I's so stupid" jokes. Good times. There is no dramatic tension to ruin any of it for you, and no demanding plot you need to keep track of. This is a film for retards.
For the rest of you, here's the deal. The film is watchable in the sense that most mindless ripoffs are. The scenes make sense in the order in which they are shot. The characters act like they are in the movie. The story moves from start to finish and wraps up without any huge mistakes. The effects are a step above what you see in the made-for-Sci-Fi-Channel films. And to keep you entertained the director steals every singe idea or image from Ghostbusters and a couple from Men in Black and dangles them in front of you to keep you from walking out. Oh look, shiny.

That said, the film is desperately not funny. Like most of the other films these losers have done, it is ad-libbed for the most part and none of them really have the skill to pull that off. I truly don't remember a single laugh. The jokes are awful and have no relation to the story: the fat girl is fat! the gay girl is gay! the black girl speaks ethnic gibberish! he's wearing glasses without glass... OMG?! He does logos, but they stink... they stink! The Chinese food arrives fast because they work above the restaurant! OMG that's funny! A minute long moronic argument about whether you can put a cat back in a bag after it is out of the bag. Ouch my sides! Please stop!

The villain is so forgettable you keep forgetting who he is until he appears on screen again... and even then you don't care. The characters are non-existent. The plot is for nought. You start to feel dirty about how much they steal, and ironically they are being nasty to most of it. They have real anger for the original film.
So what about the politics? This film is pretty despicable in that regard. It shits all over the original with tremendous anger and it does so in the name of a sort of vague "gurl power" theme. The girl power thing is a fraud though. These women are not competent. They don't prove that they can do anything. They don't start a business. They have no camaraderie. They don't invent anything. They don't prove anyone wrong. They don't even catch a ghost. There is not a single clever moment that makes a legitimate social commentary point. Instead, there are female genitalia "queef" jokes, males being hit in the dick, and a group of neurotic women claiming they can do "it", whatever "it" actually is. If this were the model of how women want young girls to act, how they want males to act, or what they think women can do, then women are in much worse shape than anyone knew. It's a bit like defining masculinity through Paul Blart Mall Cop.
The marketing of this thing was deeply deceptive as well, but we don't need to go into that. Suffice it to say that Paul Feig is a lying sack of shit who thought that agitating feminists, gays and blacks with an invented assault by haters was the best way to market his hack film. Hey black people, Gillette wants to restart slavery... buy Schick.

To put a fine point on this, this film is everything they said it was and worse. It is offensively political, but stupidly so. It is stolen. It is awful, almost beyond description. It is the raping of an existing property purely for profit with no care whatsoever about the people who will be suckered into seeing this film.

Skip this one.
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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Ten Reasons ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ Just Ticks Me Off

by Rustbelt

Ah, remakes. Who doesn’t love ‘em? Wait. I’m sorry. That’s a typo. Let me start again… Ah, remakes. Who isn’t sick to death of ‘em?

Over the last few years, we’ve had quite a few discussions over the plethora of remakes churned out of Hollywood in the hopes of cashing in on the public’s love of the originals. Many of said chats have been negative. But at least those remakes are sensible enough to admit they’re remakes. What about films sold as legit sequels that are, themselves, just remakes? I give you my latest light-night rant: “10 Reasons Why Terminator 2 Just Ticks Me Off.”

(Warning: 30+-Year-Olds may find their childhoods hurting over the next few paragraphs. You’re been warned.)

Number 10: Inappropriate Catchphrases

In the original Terminator, (‘T1’), Arnie’s scant lines were used by a killer robot trying to pass for a human. These auditory attempts at banter often come off as awkward because robots don’t understand human behavior. For the humans who interact with the T-800, conversation could either be understated (when the Terminator just repeats what the punks say), over-the-top (when it swears through the door at the janitor), or even when the legendary “I’ll be back” comes off as more mechanical than threatening. However, the humans’ reactions make the scenes work. The punks ridicule the machine, before he brutally attacks them; the janitor decides it isn’t worth it to mess with a guy who sounds like he’s p****d off; and the cops are blown away when Arnold drives a car through the door to gain entry. Ah, Ray Bradbury, you were right: “Science fiction is about advances in science and technology and our human reactions to those advances.”

Unfortunately, in T2, everything is forced in order to come off like a typical action movie. That brat John Connor teaches the bad-ass machine to say “no problemo,” “chill out, d***w**,” and… “Hasta la vista, baby?” It’s one thing when John McClain says that, because Die Hard films are set up to feature his light-hearted quipping against a dangerous situation. But as a follow-up to the sci-fi horror of T1, T2’s misunderstanding of tone looks like a case of ADHD.
Did Cameron think this would be a good way of lightening things up? Did he not realize that trying to make the audience laugh during scenes meant to be tense can actually ruin the tone? Or does he understand this concept about as well as George Lucas?

Look, the Germans do not say, “Guess vhat? You’re all going to DIE! Zay nacht-nacht!” before machine-gunning the prisoners in The Great Escape. The Predator didn’t mutter, “Set me free, why don’t you, babe?” before self-destructing. Such catchphrases might have earned a chuckle in the writing room or marketing meetings. But for a movie selling itself as deep and tense, they come off as an unwanted Adam Sandler belch or Looney Tunes quote by a wrestler that wrecks a promising premise.
Number 9: This Time, It’s Impossible to Connect with Sarah

In T1, Sarah Connor is a classic protagonist. She’s a waitress- a typical job for a woman in her 20’s still trying to start a career. We see her at work, at her apartment, and hanging out at night. Then she learns that women with her name are being killed. This is followed by attempts on her life and learning her would-be killer is an uncompromising, indestructible automaton. And how does she react to all of this? She panics! –just like most of us would probably do. Throughout the film, we feel for her, root for her, and cheer for her because we can see ourselves behaving similarly.

This is impossible in T2. In this film, we learn that Sarah has gone vigilante (which most of us would never do), has had training from rogue green berets (again, which most of would never do), and is living the survivalist lifestyle (like the maniacs on the political fringes). She might as well now be an alien.

Clearly, Cameron was playing to the feminazi crowd by replacing T1’s Regular Jill Sarah with T2’s Psycho Sarah. (A.K.A. the “impossibly strong, skinny girl” cliché, as KRS liked to call it.) He wants us to see the loony bin staff as bad for calling Sarah a menace to society and locking her up while rooting for Sarah because we’re told in advance that she’ll be proven right all along. And we’re supposed to stop thinking at “Look! She kicks butt!” while ignoring how she attacks every innocent person she sees. There’s nothing wrong with strong women in movies. There is a problem when the character we’re told to root for is a genuine psychotic and the people who locked her up were clearly right all along. And while I’m on this subject…

Number 8: The (Lack of) Morality in Cameronverse

James Cameron has a low, Marxist threshold for morality. In his movies, billionaires must always be evil and die because they’re too rich. People with nothing are always heroes because poor equals righteous. And methods be damned because the ends ALWAYS justify the means.

His lawyer, I’m guessing, would like you not to counter this with how Cameron is, himself, a billionaire. (Calling Operation Wall Street!) In public appearances, Cameron is a big, ocean-loving environmentalist who promotes peace and vegan lifestyles. Ah, how precious. On the side, he also supports eco-terrorism and his estate leaves a carbon footprint the size of Antarctica. And as he’s done to so many people, he’ll rip you a new one if you mention these contradictions to his face. Ends justify the means! Silence, pleb!

In T2, these attitudes are on full display. The characters are, of course, trying to save the human race from a future takeover by evil robots. That’s it. Stop right there. Don’t ask for any more justifications because that’s all you need. Because in James Cameron’s little mind, good intentions are all that’s necessary. His characters are allowed to rob, burgle, hijack, wound, maim, destroy property, assault, lie, threaten at the point of a gun, etc. as long as it’s in the name of accomplishing the goal. In T2, the ‘good guys’ do pretty much all of this and it’s okay because Cameron said so.

Strangely, there is one thing they’re not allowed to do…

Number 7: Sarah Connor is a Terrorist

In keeping with T2’s, ahem, ‘morality,’ you might have noticed the heavy-handed “do not kill” theme. Apparently, that’s the one crime good guys cannot commit because not doing so is what defines them as good guys. Committing every crime on the rap sheet of the Gambino Crime Family is fine as long as it’s in service of the goal of saving humanity from the machines’ prophesized takeover- even if it means burning down the village to do it.

Speaking of which, Sarah Connor is a mass-murderer and a terrorist. Yeah, I said it. Sarah should be locked up in the dungeons of Alcatraz with the key thrown away. The asylum doctors say that she tried to bomb a computer factory that she thought might eventually help create Skynet. You know, I can’t prove this, but I’d bet in the original script that Sarah blew up the factory and killed everyone inside of it.

Note: Of course, in the final film, they say no one was inside when the bomb was set to go off. This is absurd. No building like that will ever be devoid of people. The majority of employees might leave at night, but there will always be security, cleaning, maintenance, and delivery staff on hand to prepare for the next work day. Any successful structural bombing would automatically result in human casualties.

Furthermore, I’d bet that in the original draft that Sarah and the reformed Terminator killed several more people along the rest of the way. This is what terrorists do. And the public hates them for it, regardless of their stated reasons.

At that point in the pre-production process, I’d be willing to bet that someone speaking on the side of sanity told Cameron that if the ‘heroes’ had a higher body count than Jonestown, no one in the audience would care if they won or lost. And it seems Cameron took this advice to an extreme, pushing the ‘no killing’ theme to be dominant and get viewers to overlook all the other characters’ crimes- because they’re only trying to stop Skynet and Cameron said “that’s that. Stop asking questions. No one can be a terrorist as long as their intentions are good and match my views.”
Number 6: Sarah is the Cause of all of John Connor’s Problems

Okay. Last gripe about Sarah. I promise. Um, despite being the strong, knows-better-than-you-do superwoman that Cameron pushes her as, did anyone else notice that Sarah is, herself, the greatest threat to her stated goal of protecting John so that he can lead the human resistance in the future? Consider…

-She isolates him from society as he grows up, which would leave him socially maladjusted and indifferent to humanity. This upbringing is more likely to leave him despising society and not caring at all when Skynet attacks. So, instead of leading the uprising, odds are he’ll build his own fort in the mountains and look out for old number one à la Robert Neville in I Am Legend. (Robert Matheson’s novel, I mean. Not Will Smith’s awful movie.)

-She shields him from others and centers his life on hers. When she chastises John for rushing to the mental hospital and saving her from the T-1000, her stupidity is on full display. You’ve made him completely dependent on you, Sarah! You’re the center of his universe! That’s why he came. He’s behaving in a perfectly logical manner according to the way you raised him!

-Finally, after escaping the T-1000 by leaving his tiny search area (oh, don’t worry, we’ll get to that!), and taking refuge in Mexico, she drags the whole group right back into the danger zone of Los Angeles. If Sarah and Co. stay in Mexico, they’ll be safe. Movie over. But, no. The action film plot must be served! She heads to L.A., John follows her (again, behaving logically), and T-1000 gets an undeserved bonus chance to kill them. You go, girl.
Number 5: BTW, I Hate John Connor

And no, I’m NOT letting John Connor off the hook. It seems a certain Internet critic claims that T2 is better than T1 because the concept of a robot killing a child is more frightening than killing a grown woman before she can give birth to said child. That might sound okay on paper. But he’s wrong. Just like in The Boys from Brazil, this is the fallacy of saying the concept should be interesting enough. Well, it isn’t. And Cameron not only uses it as a crutch, but as a safeguard as he plunges the characters back into the Cameron School of Morality.

Remember when I said that T1 Sarah was actually relatable? It seems Cameron wants us to have similar feelings for John in T2. Only, there’s multiple problems. As I said, in T1 Sarah is Jill Q. Public. We identify with her. In T2, we see John skipping school, stealing from a bank, being a brat to his stepmother, (who, of course, is a typical West Virginia hick living in LA., so his treatment of her is all good and fine), and behaving like trash to everyone he meets. Uh, why am I rooting for this kid again? Well, according to Uncle James, “it’s because he’s the future leader of the resistance. Shut up.” But if I’m looking at this from a blank slate, he’s a criminal and if I spotted him committing these crimes, I’d want him thrown in the slammer.

It also doesn’t help that John emasculates the Terminator by teaching him the aforementioned asinine catchphrases and encouraging him to cry. Plus, he pouts and whines through the whole film like a grunge-era Bella Swan. Our future hero, ladies and gentlemen! Maybe I should just root for the T-1000.

Number 4: T-1000: Least Effective Killer Robot Ever

I just can’t catch a break here. I keep thinking about how in T1 Arnie’s T-800 had to search for information, ultimately using a phone book to look for ‘Sarah Connor.’ (This is due to, according to Kyle Reese, Skynet’s loss of 20th century records during the war.) This leads to the Terminator killing all the women he can find named ‘Sarah Connor’ (just whacking them all and hoping that eventually the actual target will be among the dead), while tracking down their addresses and collecting personal information. This makes the T-800 look smart, resilient, resourceful, and, above all, a nearly omnipotent predator who will find its prey, come Hell or high water.

In T2, the T-1000 simply commandeers a cop car, looks up John’s file on the vehicle’s Commodore 64, and ta-daaa!!! Talk about a copout (pun absolutely intended). Isn’t it fortunate that John already has a rap sheet? –complete with personal information? –and that T-1000 seemingly knew this and already knew were to look despite the loss of 20th century data and files in the future and…wait, that doesn’t make sense.

I can only imagine what might have happened if John didn’t have a record. Speaking of which, if Sarah and her friends knew of all possible ways to stay off the grid, why didn’t they just erase his file in the event of this very situation? Or, in the event of Sarah’s incarceration, couldn’t she- miss Ultra Resourceful- have found someone as willing and crazy as her to see to the job? Or why didn’t she teach John how to do this himself along with all the other self-resiliency classes? Maybe she forgot that lesson - or John inherited his mom’s judgment.

Anyway, what could T-1000’s backup plan have been? Standing on the side of a highway, holding a picture, and asking drivers if they’ve “seen this boy?” Of course, we’d have to question how he’d get the picture.
Number 3: And Just When You Thought T-1000 Couldn’t Be More Ineffective…

Not entirely Off Topic…but did you ever see that Star Trek: TNG episode where Picard is engaged in the deadliest battle of wits: a treaty dispute? Okay, I’ll explain. The Federation is handing some planet over to an alien race, but they first need to remove their own citizens who were never informed, apparently had no say in this, and are ready to fight for what’s rightfully theirs. The aliens want the planet and intend to immediately massacre said citizens, all the while beating the Enterprise crew over the head into diplomatically-enforced impotence with respective treaty.

In the end, Picard finds a loophole. Because they’re at an impasse (well, not really; the idiot negotiators never considered that these citizens would defend their property and defy their EU-style government), he nominates a neutral party to intercede. (Uh, wouldn’t that be the first thing you do in a diplomatic impasse?) However, he selects the Grizzelas, who are currently hibernating. (As in grizzly bears! Get it? Clever! Funny! Not.) Completely outmaneuvered, (though actually not acting rationally and demanding a third party who might actually be awake and available), the aliens give the Enterprise time to enact galactic eminent domain and forcefully move the citizens from their rightful homes and into solar section 8 housing, probably on Planet TheBronx.
Now, what I want you to take away from this is how dependent Picard is on the TNG writing staff. If the citizens aren’t written as (eventually) submissive and the aliens as lacking in logic, he has no leg to stand on (as is the case for most of Next Generation). Also, it’s clear he didn’t read the treaty beforehand- en route to a dispute about said treaty. Or bring a negotiator who knows the treaty. Or a negotiator who helped write the treaty. How in the Hell is this guy an accomplished, revered, and celebrated flagship captain again? OK, OK, back to the subject at hand…

In T2, T-1000 shows just as much creativity as Captain Unenlightened. Consider that, after losing his prey following the incident at the mental ward, he basically vanishes from the film for a while. He just seems to drive around disguised as a motorcycle cop and listening to the police bandwidth. Uh, was that his plan? Was he just going to drive around in circles around Los Angeles, wait for the moronic heroes to commit a crime, hear about it over the radio, and then pounce? And yes, just L.A. Remember! He’s tuned into the LAPD bandwidth and is only hearing about events within that jurisdiction. Theoretically, he could just end up in a literal loop, driving in circles around the City of Angels until Judgment Day (ha! ha!) while the heroes live it up in Tijuana. So, just how is he going to accomplish his mission and, for that matter, get back into this movie?
OK. That makes sense. Hand of Cameron. Got it.
Number 2: More Missed Chances and Plot Holes than a Side Street in East St. Louis

Now, we come to the scene where Sarah invades Miles Dyson’s house, blowing it to bits and nearly killing everyone because she thinks that killing computer genius Dyson will prevent Skynet from existing. She only stops because John arrives (?) and reminds her that killing is the only crime that can revoke her good guy status in the Cameronverse. And, yeah, they blow up Cyberdyne to stop Skynet and end up in a high-budget CGI remake of the chase scene from T1, in which, just like before, they wind up at a factory for the climactic showdown.

Although, the idea of Sarah killing someone to change the direction of the future sounds promising. I mean, she’s so driven. It’s like she can’t be compromised or bargained with. And with the gun pointed at Dyson’s head, it’s like she can’t feel pain, or pity, or remorse. It’s almost as if she absolutely won’t stop, ever, until Dyson’s dead. Sounding familiar?! It’s as though her obsession has gone full circle and she’s becoming what she hates and…
All right, enough with decent storytelling. Now, despite the protests of a certain, allegedly self-omniscient director, I have just a few questions about all of this. Without further ado…

-How did Sarah, while shooting spray through darkened windows and walls, destroy everything in Dyson’s house but not wound anyone?

-How is it that no neighbors heard a fully automatic weapon being fired and immediately called 911? (I mean, I know this is L.A., but that would be louder than most weapons normally used there.)

-So, assuming the attack isn’t reported and given the above, where could an excluded home, far from any neighbors who could potentially hear the gunfire, be found in L.A. proper? (This is important! See below.)

-When the T-1000 arrives later on, it can be inferred that he heard of the situation over the LAPD police band. But if that’s the case, it means that the shooting was reported. So, why are there not dozens of cops and detectives putting up yellow tape and investigating the scene?

-OK. I’m guessing this wasn’t reported. I guess the house must be isolated in the hills and far away from any neighbors. But since no such isolated home likely exists anywhere within the jurisdictional boundaries of Los Angeles, where in the name of Cecil B. DeMille is this house?! How would the T-1000 be aware of this when the helmet and motorcycle he stole is tuned into the LAPD?

(And, no! Saying he knows to change from one police band to another is a fallacy. Remember, Skynet lost all files on human life and functions during the war. With that setup, T-1000 wouldn’t know what to do- i.e. switch frequencies.)

-But- solely for the sake of argument- if T-1000 is, in fact, outside LAPD jurisdiction and has switched to an outside frequency, why, when examining the house, does he get a report of a terrorist attack- at Cyberdyne- within said aforementioned LAPD jurisdiction?

-And just for the nerds…if T-1000 is heading to Miles Dyson’s house because he calculated that Sarah would most likely try to destroy Cyberdyne and Skynet via Dyson and so headed for Dyson’s house to finish her and the others, how did he know how long to wait for Sarah to be back in that part of California before heading there? Shouldn’t he - like the T-800 reaching a similar conclusion about Sarah’s mom in T1 and heading to that location immediately - have gone there right away and just waited for Sarah to arrive? It’s not like not like he got any other clues during said time period. Even Mitchell knew to park outside Cummins’ home and stake him out. (Good God! Did I just use that slovenly pig as a positive example?! I need help.)

Uh…Hand of Cameron? Laws of the Mechanics of the Timing of Action Movies? Wand of Gamelon? Sol pulz? Food for thought.

Number 1: From Where Did the Terminator Universe Truly Spring?

You know what? I’m not really sure any more if James Cameron truly was the force behind the original Terminator film. What if he just gets down-the-road credit? What if there was another force- Light or Dark Side, your choice- behind this tale?
(No, I’m not talking about his feud with super-litigious author Harlan Ellison. It’s Cameron’s fault for drunkenly stating that he “ripped off Ellison” and giving the cantankerous jerk all he needed for a successful lawsuit.)

So, perhaps it’s just the Four Loko talking, but I’m heading down into the black abyss of the human mind inhabited by freaks, fanatics, and illuminati-induced insanity. So, if you’ll indulge me, I intend to seep into my Alex Jones/Oliver Stone/Robert Slatzer shadow self and find the true conspiratorial forces behind the original Terminator movie!

What? You think I’m crazy? Well, in most cases, you’d be right. But hear me out. I know that, according to Cameron, the genysis of this franchise came to him in the form of a dream featuring an evil robot walking out of flames while he had a headache. But what if that’s just cover? What if the differences between the horror/sci-fi Terminator and the action/sci-fi Terminator 2 are too vast for them to be the work of the same director?
T1 Opening Theme
Some Other Opening Theme
A parallel can be found in Cameron’s officially documented career. The original Alien was directed by Ridley Scott and is a horror/sci-fi flick centered around a haunted-house-in-outer-space plot. The tension comes from intelligent characters unsure of what to do as they’re hunted by a monster with no way to escape. In Cameron’s sequel, Aliens, tension is replaced by drawn-out action sequences as characters act stupidly in order to lengthen the plot and keep the movie from ending prematurely.
Another T1 Theme
Another Theme
Oh, Cameron characters. As I’ve said already, T1 has relatable, fleshed-out characters whose actions we can see ourselves taking. I’ve talked enough about Sarah. So, let’s not forget about Kyle Reese. In a basic Cameron film, he’d be a stereotypical soldier. (cough, cough Avatar, cough, cough) But in T1, he jumps when he hears machines working, (a nod to his own time); appears remorseful when he looks at L.A. and comprehends its impending destruction; and genuinely looks like a man who, after a lifetime of war, finds true peace for the first time ever during his one night with Sarah. I ask you, is Cameron really capable of creating a character this complex? I think not.
Some Other T1 Theme
Some Other Theme
I mean, the styles of the two films contrast completely. T1 is dark and brooding, creating a subdued atmosphere of foreboding doom. The minimalist score perfectly complements this by evoking the correct emotions for each scene. T2 takes place in either broad daylight or over-lit nightlight. Having a T-800 as a bodyguard takes away any chance the T-1000 has of being a looming menace. And the music is largely overdone and misplaced. (“Bad to the Bone” certainly did its job of making the T-800 a joke and lessening its bad-assery.)
Yet Another T1 Theme
Yet Another Theme
Yeah, I know. This all sounds far-fetched. But how could two movies- T1 and T2- be so different- a sci-fi horror film and a sci-fi action flick- and be the product of the same guy? Much less the same franchise?
Go ahead. Call me crazy. You might say a director’s style changed as he chose to focus on shoving his politics down the audience’s throat as opposed to decent storytelling. You might say a director chose to rely on CGI, childish plots, and pathetic dialogue as he focused on manipulating audiences as opposed to entertaining them. You might even say he lost his artistic soul and eventually only cared about making more money than J.P. Morgan, John Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie (pronounced Car-NAY-gee), and Charles Foster Kane combined. Well, you know what?! I say YOU’RE all crazy! No director would do such things! This IS a conspiracy, I tell you! The public must know! It’s time for-----


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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Guest Review: Manchester by the Sea (2016)

by Koshcat

I recently watched Manchester by the Sea, which won the award for Best Screenplay, starring Casey Affleck, which he won a Best Actor Academy Award. It was written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan who also wrote Gangs of New York.

The plot is fairly straight forward. (Spoiler Alerts) Lee Chandler (Affleck) has experienced a horrible tragedy losing his family. He is more than depressed and has completely checked out of life. He now works as a janitor for minimum wage and living quarters which is a small, one-room, basement apartment in Boston. The only time he feels anything is when he drinks too much and then picks unnecessary fights with strangers. Prior to this he was life-loving, loved his wife and kids, and spent glorious times with his brother, Joe, and nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), on their fishing boat. Since the tragedy, he has cut off just about everything and everyone from his previous life. The only tether is to his brother, Joe, who won’t allow Lee to totally cut him off.
His brother has been diagnosed with a heart condition where he is occasionally hospitalized and, when that happens, Lee will return to temporarily take care of Patrick. Patrick’s mother is an alcoholic and unreliable as a parent. The movie starts with Lee getting a call that his brother, Joe, is in the hospital with a myocardial infarction. He quickly leaves to see his brother but it takes him about 90 minutes to get from his home to the hospital. Unfortunately, he doesn’t arrive in time and his brother has died. It is now his responsibility to deal with his brother’s estate and discovers that his brother has made him Patrick’s guardian.

When Lee had left town, Patrick was a young boy. Now he is a 16 and firmly entrenched in the Manchester community with multiple friends and activities. His dream is to take over his dad’s boat. Lee has trouble with the responsibility thrust upon him but more importantly he struggles with the pain and memories of his past, told through flashbacks. Patrick refuses to leave Manchester and move to Boston to live with his uncle. Patrick is also in contact with his estranged mother, who has dried out, and arranges a meeting with her. However, it doesn’t go well.
Lee is trying to find a way to stay in Manchester. It was his mistake that led to his children’s death. While many, including his ex-wife and mother of his children, have forgiven him, there are others, including himself, who cannot. In the end, he has found a way to allow Patrick to stay in Manchester. Lee can’t move back but has found a job much closer and is looking for an apartment with an extra bedroom so Patrick can visit. The end shows Lee and Patrick on now his boat fishing much like they did when Patrick was a boy.

I thought this movie was very well written, directed, shot, and acted. It is not an uplifting story but more similar to the movie Ordinary People. While the ending doesn’t have some incredible redemption or uplifting message, it does give just a glimmer of hope. Lee is heart-broken and in pain. Everyone he has loved has either left or been taken from him. He loved Patrick as a son but fears more pain if he allows himself to get too close. Why should he? He will just suffer more pain and it is easier to be numb. Dealing with numb people is very frustrating because you feel like just shaking them really hard with a couple of good slaps to wake them from their stupor. However, it is a very effective defense mechanism. What makes this movie uplifting is Lee is going to try. It isn’t much but it is a sliver of an opening. He tells Patrick that he can’t move back. That is different from won’t. He wants to be there for Patrick but it is too painful. However, he wants to be in Patrick’s life. Initially, Patrick doesn’t understand primarily because he is self-centered teenager but at the end he matures a little and accepts what Lee will give him. More than accepts-he embraces it. This is growth, maturity, and reality. Healing from a tragedy like they have endured is in small steps. And as each small step is met with a positive outcome, it makes it easier to make the next one. Also, if the small step doesn’t work it is small enough that you can try again. Patrick is forced to grow up too fast but has people in his life who want to help and support him. Lee made sure the foundations are in place. Patrick’s wants are egocentric but not unreasonable. Lee cannot take on the responsibility and possible pain of being Patrick’s father. However, he can be his friend and eventually perhaps his uncle again.
Reading reviews on Amazon, people are all over the place on how they felt about the movie. A third thought is was one of the best movies ever and a third thought is was one of the worst. If you liked movies such as Ordinary People, you will like this movie. I do agree with one reviewer who mentioned that you have to have the right frame of mind to watch it. He had watched it twice and hated it the first time. The second time he was more open about the movie and loved it. There have been articles written as to why some people like movies that make them feel sad and it has to do with being compassionate. Movies like these seem to make people feel more compassionate about others around them who are in pain. It is thought that this compassion helps make a stronger sense of society by bringing us closer to one another.

I haven’t seen the other movies where actors were also up for an award, but Casey does a great job going back and forth between the two different lives. Personally, I think Casey is a better actor than his brother and he continues to improve. In addition, he generally favors smaller, more intimate movies rather than big block busters. This may have to do with personality differences between the two brothers. Before Matt Damon went off the deep end, he gave an interesting interview. He stated that after he and Ben became famous, Matt had trouble dealing with the fame. He married a non-celebrity woman and they have 3 children. They tend to keep their private life out of the lime-light. According to Matt, Ben is just the opposite. He thrives in the public eye and doesn’t seem to let negative press about his private life bother him. We may be trying to judge Casey against his brother, which probably isn’t fair to either.
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