Monday, December 31, 2012

Last blog of 2012!

Escape From Alcatraz
Director: Don Siegel
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Patrick McGoohan, Fred Ward, Larry Hankin
Released: June 22, 1979



If you're like me and love the movie, The Shawshank Redemption; the book, Watership Down; and the TV show, Prison Break (well, at least the first season), chances are, you will like this movie as well. It's based on the true story of Frank Morris, one of three men to have escaped from Alcatraz, probably the most famous prison in America and one of San Francisco's most well-known sites. I had an amusing conversation with my mom about this movie:

Me: Have you ever seen Escape from Alcatraz?
My mom: Is that the one with Nicolas Cage?
Me: No, you're thinking of The Rock.

Well, I thought it was amusing! Come to think of it, The Rock was my first introduction of Alcatraz. And probably my first introduction to Michael Bay, heh! I wasn't familiar with the story of Frank Morris (played by a younger-looking but still older Clint Eastwood), an inmate sent to Alcatraz because he had escaped from several other prisons. He was serving time for breaking and entering and robbery. He was said to have an IQ of 133, which is probably the reason for all his escapes...including this one.
One of the first things he is told by the warden (Patrick McGoohan) is that Alcatraz can not be broken out of and even if he did manage to escape, he would die trying to swim to the mainland from the cold.

Morris sizes up everyone at the prison. He becomes friendly with a few inmates including Old Man Marley from Home Alone (hmm, maybe Buzz was right and he did kill his entire family!) No, actually his name is Doc and he's played by Robert Blossom and his voice sounded so familiar and then I placed that he was the old scary neighbor in Home Alone who was actually a nice guy, just lonely. Let's just say in this movie he doesn't get a happy ending like he does in Home Alone when he's reunited with his family. Remember that scene in Misery that involves feet? There's a scene like that in this movie, only it involves fingers and Kathy Bates isn't in the scene!

Morris also befriends John and and Clarence Anglin who are brothers and Charlie Butts, his cell neighbor. Morris knew the brothers from another prison where they first met and together the four of them come up with an elaborate plan to escape. Over several months, they chip away at the grille in their rooms with spoons which they sneaked from the kitchen. From the arts and craft department, they get material to make paper-mache heads of themselves so the guards will think they are in bed when they are actually working on their escape plan. On the night of June 11, 1962, they are ready to escape. It doesn't quite go according to plan when one of them loses the nerve to escape and sits on his bed, contemplating whether or not he should join the others who wait for him for a few minutes, but leave once it's clear he's not coming. He does finally escape from his room, but by that time it's too late because the others are long gone and he needs help to reach the window on the roof that is too high for one person to reach without help. He goes back to his room and waits for the massive outburst that will erupt in the morning when the guards will find there are three men missing. Now I was curious about the guy who didn't escape, so I went to my ever faithful source: Wikipedia. It says that the reason he didn't escape was because he couldn't remove the grille in time, but in the movie it makes it seems he doesn't escape because he's having second thoughts.

Of course everyone is searching the island and water for any sign of the three men who escaped. They found personal belongings that belonged to one of the men but didn't know if this meant that they had drowned or he left them there so that people would think they drowned. They never found any bodies, but there's no evidence to indicate that they were ever found alive, so it's believed that the men probably drowned. You think if they were still alive, they would have come out by now and bragged that they escaped from Alcatraz! Frank Morris would be 86 today if he were still alive, so if he did make it out alive, it's possible he could still be alive today. And, really, would they throw an 86 year old man back in jail if he came forward and confessed that he was Frank Morris? But he most likely died that June night fifty and a half years ago.

Friday, December 21, 2012

But Above All This, I Wish You Love

The Bodyguard
Director: Mick Jackson
Cast: Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston
Released: November 25, 1992

Oscar nominations:
Best Original Song - "I Have Nothing"
Best Original Song - "Run To You" (lost to "A Whole New World" from Aladdin)



Movie confession time: this was my first (and likely only) time seeing The Bodyguard. However, it was my 300 millionth time hearing Whitney Houston belt out the epic love song, "I Will Always Love You" which is so associated with the chanteuse. So much so that I had no idea that Whitney's version was a cover of a song Dolly Pardon had written and recorded in 1974! 1974! That was 18 years before Whitney's cover was released! I have both versions on my iPod and obviously they're both very different as Whitney, the pop singer, sings it as a power ballad, and Dolly, the country crooner, almost sings it in a melancholy style, as a very sad love song. Whitney's version is much "bigger" (and longer) while Dolly's is more low-key which might explain why the cover version is the more popular of the two.

Let's quickly get one thing straight here: The Bodyguard is not a very good movie. It's pretty bad at times. But it's the kind of movie that's still enjoyable to watch because it's not so bad that it's unwatchable. It's still very watchable and that makes it the good kind of a bad movie.

Kevin Costner plays Frank Farmer, a bodyguard (duh) who used to be a bodyguard for Ronald Reagan and still blames himself for the time Reagan was almost assassinated because he wasn't there that day to protect him...even though Reagan didn't die!  (Wasn't this a similar plot point for Clint Eastwood in In the Line of Fire?) He wants to retire, but he's been asked to be the bodyguard for actress/pop singer Rachel Marron (is it me or is that the most vanilla name ever?) played by Whitney Houston. Whitney playing a pop star? Of course I can buy that. She's playing herself. Whitney playing an actress? Sure, I can see it. Whitney playing a Oscar-nominated actress who (spoiler alert!) wins the Oscar? Laughably absurd. I'm sorry, but in what world would Whitney Houston be considered an Oscar-winning actress? The woman could sing flawlessly (well, at least in her heyday) but she was a mediocre actress at best.

Frank Farmer was hired because he's the best in the (bodyguard) business and because Rachel (unbeknownst to her) has been receiving threatening letters from a creepy stalker that only her manager and sister and now Frank know about. They don't want Rachel to know because they don't want to her to worry. Of course she finds out because the stalker makes his way into her dressing room before she's to perform and she sees a menacing letter addressed to her. She is very concerned, not only for her safety, but for that of her young son. Extreme safety measures are put up around the house and Frank Farmer accompanies Ms. Marron wherever she goes. Since Frank always has to be around, Rachel suggests they go out on a date. After they sleep together, Frank tells her it's too dangerous for them to be together because he can't be distracted from protecting her and she gets really angry at him, but of course true love can't tear them apart.

I thought the love aspect of the film, which is the biggest part and main drawl of the movie, was very lacking. I was expecting to see this amazing chemistry bursting on screen, but there is barely anything. I can tell that they care about each other, but I never got the sense they were passionately in love with each other. I only get that when Whitney/Rachel sings "I Will Always Love You." I would have loved to see more of an epic love story, like Jack and Rose...or Jack and Ennis!

One of the nicest moments between the two of them is when they're at a small bar and dance to the original "I Will Always Love You" which is the reason that is "their" song. Speaking of songs, like I mentioned before, I didn't know at first that "I Will Always Love You" was originally recorded by Dolly Parton, but I also didn't know "I Have Nothing" and "Run To You" were written especially for this movie, so technically they're Rachel Marron songs, not Whitney Houston songs. I found out the truth about "I Will Always Love You" a couple years after it was released. I didn't know about these other songs until I just watched the movie. I'm not very familiar with "Run To You," but I love "I Have Nothing" and have it on my iPod. She gets a hilarious (okay, maybe hilarious isn't the right word, but I found it amusing) note from her stalker that says, "I HAVE Nothing, YOU have everything, bitch!" I'm paraphrasing, but it was something like that.

Another song I like that Whitney/Rachel sings is "Queen of the Night" even though it sounds exactly like En Vogue's "Free Your Mind" which came out the same year this movie was released. I don't think that's a coincidence!

At the Oscars, Rachel's big night where she's nominated for (and wins!) an Oscar, she is nearly killed when her stalker shows up and aims at gun at her, but Frank Farmer, the best bodyguard in the history of the world, jumps in front of her and takes a bullet for her. His only injury is an arm in a sling. The whole scene at the Oscars made me think of The Naked Gun 33 1/3 and that whole scene at the Oscars where Frank Drebin is trying to stop a terrorist attack at the ceremony and I realized that movie came out two years after The Bodyguard, so I just realized they spoofed it! I probably would have appreciated it more if I watched The Bodyguard before Naked Gun 3!

Do Frank and Rachel end up together? No. Lame!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas with the Griswolds

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
Director: Jeremiah S. Chechik
Cast: Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo, Randy Quaid, Juliette Lewis, Johnny Galecki, Juliet-Louis Dryfus, Doris Roberts
Released: December 1, 1989


It isn't a real Christmas without the Griswolds! This is just one of my favorite Christmas movies and the one I chose to review for my annual holiday film. I hadn't seen it in awhile, but I remembered everything that happened since I had seen it so many times. (Thank you, NBC). I have seen all the National Lampoon movies and this one is probably my favorite, although I do love the first one, Family Vacation. I remember being disappointed the first time I saw this movie because I was expecting a cartoon. But if you were a kid and you saw opening credits like these, you would expect a cartoon too!:


Love that song. But of course the real movie is much better than any (crappily animated) cartoon could ever be and I soon came to love it. Even though it's an (at times) raunchy comedy with plenty of gross jokes (mostly thanks to Cousin Eddie) and an electrocution of a cat, there is a sweetness to it and almost has a It's a Wonderful Life vibe. Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) wants to have a nice family Christmas at their home outside of Chicago and wants to make it the best Christmas ever. It's a good thing the Griswolds have a large house because joining him and his wife, Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo) and their two children, Audrey (Juliette Lewis) and Rusty (Johnny Galecki), are his parents and Ellen's parents - her mother is played by a pre-Everybody Loves Raymond Doris Roberts. Of course it wouldn't be a National Lampoon movie without Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) who visits without warning in his RV with his wife, Katherine; their two children, Rocky and Ruby Sue; and their aptly-named dog, Snot. Throw in Great Aunt Bethany and Great Uncle Lewis and you have one big, happy (at times) family!

Can you guess which house belongs to the Griswolds? :-p
One of my favorite scenes and probably one of the movie's most memorable is the whole lighting of the house. Clark has covered every square inch of his home with a grand total of 25,000 twinkling white lights and when he invites the entire family outside to see the lighting of the house for the first time, nothing happens when he plugs in the cords. His family, being supportive, tells him it's still lovely even if the lights aren't turned on. The next night, after Clark has checked all the bulbs again, he attempts to try again, but still nothing happens. It's only by accident that the lights are (briefly) turned on when Clark's mother goes into the garage to retrieve something and turns on the light - turns out all they need to do to turn on the Christmas lights is to flip on that switch. All the cords plugged into that electric outlet was humorous - and looked pretty dangerous! I'm pretty sure they were breaking the fire code! Through a series of mishaps, the lights go on and off multiple times, blinding their snooty neighbors, Todd and Margo (Julia Louis-Dryfus before she was Elaine). That scene is so iconic in pop culture that Old Navy has made some cute commercials out of it including this one:

Between these commercials and the recent Old Navy ads with Beverly Hills, 90210 alums, I have to say I am proud to shop at and own clothes from Old Navy!

Another one of my favorite scenes is when Clark and Eddie takes the kids sledding and Clark has that round sled that he greased with something to make it go extra fast -which it did! That was filmed in Breckenridge, Colorado, which I thought was pretty cool since I've been to Breckenridge many times. Of course the film takes place in Chicago and as far as I know there are no mountains in Chicago, but I guess you can just pretend it's a very big hill!

Everything is going wrong for the Griswolds on Christmas Eve: the delicious-looking turkey Katherine made turns out to be completely dry; poor Aunt Bethany's cat (which she accidently put in a box and wrapped) gets electrocuted; Uncle Lewis completely burns the huge Christmas tree Clark was so proud of; the new tree Clark cuts from his yard and brings into his home has a squirrel that springs out and attacks him; Snot chases the squirrel all over the house, wrecking nearly every room in the house; and to make matters worse, the Christmas bonus Clark was expecting turns out to be a jelly-of-the-month club membership ("the gift that keeps on giving" according to Cousin Eddie) and after Clark rants about his boss and tells everybody how much he wants his boss right in front of him so he can call him a string of not-so-nice adjectives, Eddie grants him his wish which results in the police invading the Griswold household. But in the end, everyone has a nice and heartfelt Christmas.

A definite must-see for the holiday season!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Man's Best Friend

Turner and Hooch
Director: Roger Spottiswoode
Cast: Tom Hanks, Mare Winningham, Craig T. Nelson, Reginald Veljohnson
Released: July 28, 1989



This is one of those movies I loved as a kid, but recently re-watched and it just doesn't hold up. Of course, I still adore Hooch (the dog), a French Mastiff so ugly he's cute, but dang, do those dogs drool! All the time. It's really quite disgusting. Tom Hanks is (Scott) Turner, a tidy and organized detective who acquires the unruly beast after his owner is killed in his boathouse because he is a witness to some shady business going on in a seafood manufacture plant not far from where he resides. Since Hooch was the only "witness" (he was restrained inside and wasn't able to break free until his owner was already dead and the bad guy ran away), Turner takes him, in hoping he can gather evidence on who the murderer is.

Hilarity ensues when Hooch comes to live with Turner (who was always afraid of him when he visited the old man). He sleeps on the porch the first night and howls until Turner can't stand it anymore and takes him in to the garage, the only room in the house Hooch is allowed. While Turner is away at work one day, Hooch gets into the main house and completely obliterates everything and Turner has a (who can blame him?) conniption fit.

But of course, Turner learns to love the dog as his own when he spends more time with Hooch. I remember bawling at this movie when I was little, cuz I remember Hooch gets shot when Turner and the bad guy are having a shootout,  but I forgot what the outcome was as to whether he lived or died. I don't want to give any spoilers for a 23 year old movie, but let's just say the opposite of what I remembered happened.

Mare Winningham plays the love interest who also happens to be the town vet. She owns a collie and Hooch and the collie must have gotten together (I guess Turner didn't think to neuter Hooch!) because at the end of the movie there are a bunch of little puppies. Here's the kicker: there are about four purebred collie puppies and one purebred French Mastiff. All the puppies are cute, but I'm a little confused: If a collie and a mastiff mated, I don't think you would get purebred collie puppies and a purebred mastiff puppy...you would get a puppy collie/mastiff hybrid you would make up a portmanteau for and call a Colliff or a Massie. So that was really stupid. Of course when I was a kid, that never crossed my mind because I was stupid, but now I know that could never happen!

What lesson did I learn from Turner and Hooch, you know, besides always get your dog neutered? I learned that movies I loved as a child may not be as good when you're a little older, a little wiser, and a little more cynical!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Shameless Plug Time!

Hey everyone.

For the holidays, I made a Tumblr dedicated to Christmas, so please, check it out: My Christmas Tumblr

If you scroll down, you will find a list of 25 Christmas movies and you can see the ones I have seen. I will soon be watching and reviewing my annual Christmas movie and I can tell you it's on that list. I'll give you three hints:

1. It's not Elf, Love, Actually, or Home Alone as I have already reviewed those movies.
2. It's a movie I have seen.
3. It's from the 20th century.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

What Do You Think This Is, A Game?

The Game
Director: David Fincher
Cast: Michael Douglas, Sean Penn, Deborah Kara Unger, James Rebhorn
Released: September 12, 1997



WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS!!!!!! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!!!!

So I'm at the video store and I'm browsing though the "Favorites" section (only $1 for five nights!) and I pass The Game and I must have heard somebody talk about it on a recent movie podcast (which I listen to many - I should write an entry about that someday) because it had been in the back of my mind as just one of the many movies I should watch someday. I thought, hey why not? It's a psychological thriller; it could be interesting and cool. It's directed by David Fincher; he's given us some good, critically-acclaimed movies. It stars Michael Douglas and Sean Penn as brothers, that's not shabby casting.

I wasn't really sure what to expect from this movie, but the ending literally made me say "WTF!?" There will be spoilers, as I have already warned above, so be warned (again) because I don't know how to talk about this movie without giving away any spoilers.

Michael Douglas is Nicolas Van Orton, a very wealthy investment banker who is about to turn 49, the same age his father was when he committed suicide and which Nicolas witnessed. Sean Penn (who is barely in the movie) plays his brother, Conrad, who has had substance abuse problems in the past and who Nicolas rarely sees.

For his birthday, Conrad gives Nicolas a voucher to a company called CRS - Consumer Recreation Services. He can redeem it for a "game" and makes Nicolas promise that he will call them and redeem the ticket. Nicolas asks him what it means, but Conrad doesn't tell him, but only says that it will change his life and it's something he must do.

After hearing some fellow members from his fancy gentlemens' club he frequents (you know, the kind of place with lots of leather furniture where rich old white men smoke cigars and drink whiskey while discussing politics and finance) talking about this so-called "game", he becomes intrigued (especially when they will not tell him what it is, but again imply that it will change his life) and goes to the CRS offices to apply. There, a somewhat unorganized employee helps him with the application form and the process of signing up for this "game". He has to answer a survey of never-ending questions that range from the bizarre to very personal. He also has to go through a series of mental and physical tests; it's almost like he's being trained to be an astronaut or something. There's a lot of waiting time between each test and you can't blame him when he is becoming very testy and snaps at the employee, "You've already taken up my entire day!" when the employee tells him he has to wait just a few more minutes before the results are ready. After this agonizing and irritating day, Nicolas finds it has just been a waste of time when he gets a reject letter in the mail saying he is not qualified for the game.

But Nicolas knows something is up when he returns home one night and there's a creepy life-size clown doll laying in his driveway with a note in its mouth. Why he decides to bring the clown into his house and sit him on a chair in his living room, I have no idea. I would not want that creepy clown anywhere near me! He has the news on in the background and as he's looking over the clown, the newscaster suddenly starts talking like he's having a one on one conversation with Nicolas and that catches his attention and the newscaster tells him there's a camera in the clown's eye. Right now I am both totally intrigued and confused...

The note he finds in the clown's mouth has a key attached to it and the newscaster tells him that he will need to find what the key is for and he will find two more keys and it is up to him to know what the keys are for and when to use them. As the days go on, Nicolas becomes more paranoid and it seems like everyone he comes in contact with has something to do with what's going on around him.

Things start getting out of hand and Nicolas stars to fear for his life and think that CRS is after his money. Conrad confesses to him that CRS if after him too and that he owes them money and even though he paid them double, they won't leave him alone.

So after almost being drowned in a submerged car underwater, after having his home totally ransacked and destroyed, after being drugged and left in a Mexican cemetery, after having to find his way back to the States with only a little money, after (thinking) he accidently shot and killed his brother, and after leaping off the roof of a skyscraper to his death does he find out....it really was a game all along! SURPRISE! The entire thing, from when Conrad gives him the voucher is already in place and planned. Every person that Nicholas meets along the way is in some way involved with this "game" and everything is meticulously planned to how the events will unfold. I was aware of anybody that Nicholas met along the way, like the waitress who gets caught up in his activities...I thought she might have something to do with the whole thing and she did. I just wasn't aware that EVERYBODY he encountered was in on it too. They even planned his "suicide" - when he jumped, he just happened to break through fake glass and land on a huge air mattress where all the guests for his surprise birthday party are waiting for him. Good thing he didn't jump off the other side of the building!

Why this elaborate hoax? Because Conrad thought it would help him embrace life and stop being such a hardass like their father or something, I really don't know. All I know is that if somebody ever did that to me, I would scream expletives at them and NEVER talk to them again. Does Nicholas do that? Noooo. He's not mad at all! He even flirts with the woman who played the waitress and was in on it. Ugh. Interesting premise, stupid ending.