Sunday, June 28, 2015

How Memories Change with Time

The other night, the original The Blob (1958) aired, staring a very young Steve McQueen with female co-star Aneta Corsaut, and it was a stark reminder of how memories can change over time and aren't always reliable. First I was surprised to see that it was filmed in color. My memories told me it was in black & white. Second, I realized I only remembered how it began and ended but not anything in between.

This was the first time I had seen The Blob in at least 30 years a number of years. The very first time I watched this film was with Mamma Cheese when I was a wee lad. We saw a commercial that it would air on a local television channel late on a Saturday night. She said it was one of those classic she had always meant to watch, and since up to that point in my life, Mama Cheese was my biggest influence in my tastes in horror films, if she said we needed to watch it, then by the gods I was going to watch it with her! This was pre-DVR and before we owned a VCR, so we had to stay up until past midnight. I remember the experience but only remember the final scenes. But as proof that human memories are fallible, I thought it was in black & white. Rewatching it the other night, I was quite surprised to see that it was filmed in color. I was also able to rewatch it with a more critical and experienced eye. One of the things that struck me earlier on in the film was that I didn't understand why early in the film more than ten minutes is spent in a drag racing scene between Steve McQueen and some other teens. The only thing I can figure it that drag racing would have been something of interest to the young crowd of the time, but other than that, it did nothing to propel the plot forward.

Mama Cheese and I went to bed at the movie's conclusion, and the rest of life was normal. A few weeks later though, we saw another commercial, and that exact same television station was going to show The Blob at noon that coming Sunday. She said a few choice four-letter words, I shook my head, and eventually we went to the theaters and watched one of Roger Corman's last films,  Battle Beyond the Stars.

Per my last two blog postings, The Blob was remade in 1988 and stared Kevin Dillon and young, emerging scream queen Shawnee Smith (from horror film Saw fame). From what I remember, it was a worthy remake, not nearly as bad as many I've seen. Although ironically, unlike the original in which I only remembered the beginning and the end, with this remake, I can only remember the middle portions. I do remember though that both Dillon and Smith were decent enough actors that they didn't embarrass themselves, and the special effects for this film were fairly decent.

But all this goes to show that we should rewatch the classics from time to time and refresh our memories of them. Plus, with the passage of years, we've changed as individuals and may discover new aspects about the film (or classic books) that we didn't notice the first time around. We'll approach it with a different level of expectations and relive those portions we loved the first time around. Finally, rewatches remind us of the people we shared the experience with, and maybe sometimes, for a few ethereal moments, that person is with us again.

Until Next Time...
Nostalgically Yours,

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Exception to the Rule

So, Cheesy Readers, I've given you time to absorb the full implications of the crime Dwayne Johnson is masterminding. So far, I've found no news to console you, but trust me when I say I'm digging. I've also been trolling the internet for a Chinese witch doctor who charges reasonable rates for casting curses. While I'm busy doing that though, I thought I'd give you more to think (and talk) about.

Last time, I boldly stated that remakes of cult classics nearly always fail, but I also said there were exceptions. Coincidentally enough, both exceptions I had in mind involve John Carpenter. The first is 1982's The Thing, which was actually inspired by the novella "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell. But upon it's release and for a while afterwards, people believed it was a remake of The Thing From Another World (1951), a movie about an isolated military base that uncovers a frozen ship from space and unintentionally unleashes its alien pilot which they then have to kill. The box office and media treated Carpenter's The Thing as if it was a remake of that black&white B-movie, as evidenced by poor ticket sales and a complete pan by the critics, but it was the video market where it earned its biggest financial reward and earned the status of a late night, pizza-eating, soda-drinking, cult classic. Coincidentally enough, the movie's protagonist R.J. MacReady was portrayed by none other than Kurt Russell. 

The second example I can recall again involves John Carpenter, and I initially approached this remake with the same attitude and complete disregard as I currently do for The Rock's upcoming mistake. When I first heard news of Rob Zombie's desire to remake Carpenter's slasher classic Halloween, I thought it was a mistake on two levels. First, it was a trail blazer that gave birth to the slasher films of the late 1970s and 80s, and second, because it was a slasher film, there was really no point in retelling the story, since it was pretty straight forward and had already inspired more sequels than I could recall.

Reluctantly I watched --- and quite simply, Cheesy Readers, it absolutely blew me away. In many ways, it surpassed the original, and earned its way into my list of Top Five Horror Movies of All Time. I was so excited by this remake, that I was able to talk The Boss (who hates horror films) into giving this one a shot since she had not seen me this excited about a movie in a long time. She loved it, and at the same time cursed me because the images, story, and overall creepiness of the film burned themselves into her psyche.

Zombie delved deeply into the mind and story of Michael Myers and how he grew to become the killing machine adult obsessed with violently murdering all his relatives. The acting was superb, especially by the child actor, Daeg Faerch, and Zombie did a wonderful job refilming the killing spree of the 10-year old Michael, giving it much more depth than the original. Zombie explored Michael's early life prior to the acts that led to him slaughtering his sister, as well as the years of his confinement in a mental institution and how his mother's personal demons, and subsequent suicide, haunted him as well. Basically, Zombie's remake of the slasher classic became an insightful psychological study of a mass murderer. If for some reason you've held off watching this film, then by god, make the time. It will move you in ways no horror film ever has. And don't forget, ever faithful Cheesy Readers, Zombie's version is a remake!

So there you have it, two exceptions to my "no remakes" rule. Both these films are well worth watching and adding to your personal film library.

Until Next Time...
Remakefully Yours,

p.s. Bit of trivia  -- scream queen Danielle Harris appears in both series of Halloween films. In the John Carpenter series, she portrays 10 year-old Jamie Lloyd, the daughter of Laurie Strode, in Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and Halloween 5. In the Rob Zombie remake series she plays Annie Brackett, friend of Laurie Strode. For those who haven't seen either Halloween series, you may know her as Molly Tilden, Darlene's best friend/nemesis from the TV show Rosanne.

p.p.s. More trivia --- in the original film, Michael Myers's mask was nothing more than a mask of William Shatner (Captain Kirk) spray painted completely white.

p.p.p.s. Even more amazing trivia -- the budget for the original Halloween was so miniscule, that Jamie Lee Curtis was required to supply her own wardrobe for the film.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

You Know What Ol' Jack Burton Says...

In case you haven't heard by now, Fox Studios and Dwayne Johnson are in talks of remaking the cult classic (and my favorite movie of all time) Big Trouble in Little China. This serves as yet another example of Hollywood taking something perfectly good and then screwing it up.

It's common knowledge that Hollywood executives are hypersensitive to money-losing movies to the point where it could be described as a paralyzing fear. As such, they are notorious for sticking to stick to previously successful plots and gimmicks. It has earned them such tags as "movie by committee" for example.

Paradoxically enough they can be talked into backing movies that are guaranteed flops before the first minute of filming even begins. Some of those guaranteed flops are remakes of classic cult films. In the entire history of remakes of cult classics, I can only think of three that did as well as, or better than, the original --- Night of the Living Dead, Rob Vombie's Halloween, and John Carpenter's The Thing. (More on my opinion on two of these remakes, in an upcoming blog post.)

The reason the remakes of cult classics fail is usually because usually the original cult classic was turned down by Hollywood studios, and were personally financed by the writers and directors who believed passionately about their film. And because the films creators were also the ones who finance it, they remain faithful to their own vision.

As such is the story with Big Trouble in Little China. Since the moment he conceived the idea, John Carpenter loved this project so much that he poured his soul into it, not only financing it, but writing, directing, and even writing the theme song (a god awful song, but catchy and filled with all the usual sounds and clichés of a typical 80s theme). It failed in the theaters mainly because Fox didn't know how to categorize and therefore promote the film, but became a video cult classic and gained such a large cult following that nearly 30 years later, people still buy and proudly wear Jack Burton t-shirts and other related items (in fact, Quentin Tarantino loved the film so much, the original shirt Kurt Russell wore can been seen framed on the wall at the bar in the movie Death Proof).

Something that Mr. Johnson and the executives he has convinced to back this project have forgotten two basic facts of cult classic films:
1) they nearly always flop in the box office on initial release
2) their cult success is owed to the chemistry of the actors and their performance, and can rarely be reduced to a formula that can be reproduced.

So now, The Rock and various Hollywood executive committee members have dollar signs dancing before their eyes thinking that this particular remake will be one of those rare exceptions that do better upon initial release than its predecessor. But no one can deliver the one-liners the way Kurt Russell did, and no one can write into the script the kind of personality that Russell brought to the character. Carpenter, Russell, and Kim Cattrall captured lightening in a bottle (pardon the pun and the cliché), and I just don't see Johnson repeating that sort of magic.

To be fair, Dwayne Johnson has impressed me in other comedy roles, specifically Get Shorty and Get Smart, and to be totally fair, he could come within shouting-distance of the job that Russell did if he redefines the Burton character and is able to find a female lead whose chemistry works well with his. Plus, Johnson will have to take into account that the original was part homage and part spoof of Asian action films, two little facts that have been forgotten with time.

But let's be really honest here, Johnson will never be able to pull off lines like, "You know what ol' Jack Burton says at times like this..." or "It's all in the reflexes,  and of course, "...The check is in the mail." Sorry, but Russell did it best; Johnson, you're going to have to write your own one-liners, and that's not going to be an easy task.

More than everything else, though, this will present a personal issue for me. I'm frequently asked what my favorite movie is, and I always cite this film. But if that remake becomes a reality, I'll  be forced to answer "The original Big Trouble in Little China" with emphasis on the word original. This answer will no doubt illicit one of four responses from the person who asked me, and of the four potential replies, only one will be acceptable.

1.) "Oh yes, the original was the best. This remake sucks."
2.) "I don't know, this new version was pretty good too" --- this response will immediately cause me to throttle the person where they stand.
3.) "I've never seen the original" --- at which point I will duct tape them to a chair and make them watch the original over and over until they recant.
4.) "This was remake? I didn't know that? Who was in the original?" --- their fate shall be the same as Response #2.
As these next few months pass, I will be keeping my eye out for any news one way or the other, and because of my passion about this, you can be sure I'll keep you in the loop.
Until Next Time...
Original Yours,
p.s. Much to the chagrin and annoyance of those who know us, it's no secret that The Boss and I can quote Big Trouble in Little China word for word from the opening scene to the final credit. So for those who have seen the movie, I've included some of the more famous quotes below. And for you folks who have never seen, please take this time to stream or rent the movie and enlighten yourself.
Jack Burton: Like I told my last wife, I says, "Honey, I never drive faster than I can see. Besides that, it's all in the reflexes."
Jack Burton: When some wild-eyed, eight-foot-tall maniac grabs your neck, taps the back of your favorite head up against the barroom wall, and he looks you crooked in the eye and he asks you if ya paid your dues, you just stare that big sucker right back in the eye, and you remember what ol' Jack Burton always says at a time like that: "Have ya paid your dues, Jack?" "Yessir, the check is in the mail."
Eddie: Well sure it was a war. And anybody that showed up was gonna join Lem Lee in the Hell of Being Cut to Pieces.
Jack Burton: Hell of being what?
Eddie: Chinese have a lot of Hells.
Gracie: I'd go with you but...
Jack Burton: Yeah, I know, there's a problem with your face.
Jack Burton: [tapping on the walls] Two, three feet thick, I'll bet. Probably welded shut from the outside, and covered with brick by now!
Wang Chi: Don't give up, Jack!
Jack Burton: Oh, okay, I won't, Wang! Let's just *chew* our way outta here.

Jack Burton: You know what ol' Jack Burton always says at a time like this?
Thunder: Who?
Jack Burton: Jack Burton! Me!

Jack Burton: You can go off and rule the universe from beyond the grave.
Lo Pan: Indeed!
Jack Burton: Or check into a psycho ward, which ever comes first, huh?
Jack Burton: "Jack" what? I'm supposed to buy this shit? 2000 years, he can't find one broad to fit the bill? Come on, Dave, you must be doing something seriously wrong!
Jack Burton: Would you stop rubbing your body up against mine, because I can't concentrate when you do that.
Wang Chi: A brave man likes the feel of nature on his face, Jack.
Egg Shen: Yeah, and a wise man has enough sense to get in out of the rain! 

Jack Burton: Feel pretty good. I'm not, uh, I'm not scared at all. I just feel kind of... feel kind of invincible.
Wang Chi: Me, too. I got a very positive attitude about this.
Jack Burton: Good, me too.
Wang Chi: Yeah!
Jack Burton: Is it getting hot in here, or is it just me?
Jack Burton: Sooner or later I rub everybody the wrong way.
Jack Burton: Just remember what ol' Jack Burton does when the earth quakes, and the poison arrows fall from the sky, and the pillars of Heaven shake. Yeah, Jack Burton just looks that big ol' storm right square in the eye and he says, "Give me your best shot, pal. I can take it."