August 31, 2012

SEVEN: Alternate Ending

Starring Brad Pitt & Morgan Freeman. Directed by David Fincher. Alternate Ending Restored by D.M. Anderson (1995, 128 min).

"What's in the box?!?"
"Hey, Somerset...these look pretty damn good."


HALLOWEEN 5 (Blu-Ray): New Disc Review

Starring Donald Pleasence, Danielle Harris, Don Shanks. Directed by Dominique Othenin-Girard (1989, 98 min)

Like most horror franchises that take a decent premise and milk it to death, each "Halloween" sequel has gotten progressively worse. "Halloween 5" continues this downward spiral.

Honestly, there should never have been even one sequel to the original. Though I personally think it's a bit over-praised, John Carpenter's "Halloween" was scary because of its sheer simplicity: Michael Myers was an evil killing machine with no real motive, and back in '78, the idea of a killer who refused to stay dead was somewhat new and pretty chilling. And the scene where Loomis (Donald Pleasence) peers out the second story window to see Myers has disappeared ranks as one of the creepiest final shots of any horror film ever made.
Setting aside the dozens of rip-offs which followed in its wake, the "Halloween" sequels crapped all over the original by continuing Myers' story, adding new plot developments like making his killing spree some kind of family vendetta by stalking Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), whom we learn is his sister, and hinting he's some sort of supernatural entity. But the more we learn what makes Myers tick, the less scary he becomes.

I know I'm in the minority on this, but I think the franchise would have been better off going in the direction attempted in "Halloween III," an in-name-only sequel which may not be very good, but at least there was an attempt to do something unexpected and different. The movie tanked, so the obvious solution was to bring Myers out of mothballs to slaughter more distant relatives and poor rubes who stand in his way. "Halloween 4" was a competent but by-the-numbers slasher film that pleased those upset over the previous sequel's change in direction. By now, however, the idea of an unkillable psycho no longer shocks anyone...we pretty-much expect it.

And sure enough, Michael Myers is back for "Halloween 5," a ridiculous sequel which sees Myers resurrecting from a coma a year after the events in "Halloween 4" to continue stalking sister Laurie Strode's little daughter (Danielle Harris, who'd go on to be a scream queen in her own right). Adding to the idiocy is a mysterious man in black who's also pursuing Myers. His motives are never given. Those are saved for "Halloween 6," but trust me, the revelation turns out to be as stupid as it is pointless. How stupid? Well, how about the fact that those entrusted with continuing the franchise were more-than-willing to toss aside all the events of "Halloween 4-6" once Jamie Lee Curtis agreed to return for "Halloween H20?"

But as part of a discarded trilogy within a franchise, "Halloween 5" isn't totally worthless. Donald Pleasence gives his all, as usual, since this franchise kept him employed throughout the 80s. There are some well-executed death scenes and, as silly as this man-in-black character is, the final scene does compel the viewer to check out "Halloween 6." And it isn't the worst film in the franchise...that dubious title could be fought over by "Halloween 6," "Halloween: Resurrection" or either of Rob Zombie insane reboots. Still, this disc is mostly for die-hard completists only.

Audio commentary by Don Shanks (who plays Myers), Danielle Harris and Jeffery Landman.
Audio commentary by director Dominique Othenin-Girard & Justin Beahm.
"Halloween 5": On the Set
Original Promo

FKMG RATING: ** (out of 4)

DODGEBALL: Cows & Hamsters

Starring Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, Christine Taylor, Justin Long, Stephen Root, Alan Tudyuk, Rip Torn. Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber. (2004, 92 min).

Who's there?
Interrupting cow.

That's the first joke one of my daughters learned when she was little. Like most kids, if something is funny once, it's funny a hundred times. Hence, Natalie told that joke a lot. I laughed every time, and not just to keep from hurting her feelings. The way she told it was genuinely funny. Maybe it was because she was still very little at the time, so everything she did was endearing. At any rate, it's one of only two jokes I ever heard that honestly made me laugh. This is the other one:

Q: Why would you wrap a hamster in duct tape? A: So it doesn't explode when you fuck it.

I hate it when people have a joke for me, especially a long one. They always start with a barely-contained, shit-eating grin, confident that they're about to knock your socks off, and half the time they're giggling before they even get to the punch line. Because I'm a reasonably polite fellow, I'll offer a courtesy chuckle to appease them. But either the jokes aren't funny, or most people simply suck at telling them.

For me, anyway, the Interrupting Cow joke is funny because of Natalie's delivery. I'm not sure exactly why I think the Hamster joke is so funny, aside from how short it is. No one ever actually told it to me...I simply read it in a book once. But it makes me laugh.

Vaughn & Stiller, back when they were still funny.

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story is kinda like the Cow and Hamster joke wrapped into one. It’s a dumb movie, and I generally hate stuff like this. It's mostly just another triumph-of-the-underdog tale, this time about a sport most of us remember from high school as being little more than state-sanctioned assault. But watching grown men being repeatedly pelted in the face and groin with playground balls never gets old. Nor does hearing a grizzled Rip Torn talk about his taste for his own urine. Nor does watching fitness guru Ben Stiller massage himself with a slice of pizza. Nor does watching Stephen Root prepare for a match by dodging traffic. Nor does the TV commentary by Gary Cole & Jason Bateman. None of it is clever, but still, like the Hamster joke, it makes me laugh.

Dodgeball is mostly as dumb as Adam Sandler's celluloid shit, but like my daughter, some people do know how to tell a joke. And like that duct taped Hamster, I can’t really put my finger on why  Dodgeball makes me laugh no matter how many times I see it. Of course, what constitutes funny depends on how one's wired. My father sat through Dodgeball and didn’t crack a smile. On the other hand, he loves National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and watches it every year during the holidays, but I can't stand it. Though most people love Adam Sandler, he reminds me of that onboxious uncle in every family who has a million jokes for you, none of them funny.

But seeing guys smacked with balls is hilarious...every time.

August 22, 2012

Highly-Debatable Lists: Top 10 Awesome Posters For Bad Movies

Ever walk out of a theater, pass by a terrific poster for the film you just watched and feel like you've just been duped?

Creating attractive & enticing movie poster is an art form, and takes a lot of creativity and hard work, especially if the film the artist is hired to promote isn't all that great.

The following is a list of movie posters in which the artists assigned to design them went above-and-beyond the call of duty, creating final products which are far better than the crap they are supposed to promote. Just click below:
Top 10 Awesome Posters For Bad Movies

TITANIC: The Eternal Battle Rages On...

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Frances Fisher, Gloria Stuart, Bill Paxton, Suzy Amis. Written & Directed by James Cameron. (1997, 194 min)

A brief history which we are doomed to repeat...

Long before Edward & Bella, there was Jack & Rose, and as a middle school teacher, I had a unique perspective of the cultural phenomenon that was once Titanic.

Back then, it wasn’t Robert Pattinson’s pasty glower or Taylor Lautner’s shiny chest filling the pages of Seventeen and adorning girls’ bedroom walls, but Leonardo DiCaprio’s squishy cherub face. He made all the little girls swoon, who repeatedly migrated in packs to the nearest mallplex as many times as their allowances would allow, just to watch young Jack sacrifice his own life to save Rose all over again. As for Rose...well, she was that generation’s Bella...mostly an afterthought in the eyes of the Titanic object of adoration for the guy who was the object of their adoration.

To utter anything negative about DiCaprio or Titanic meant facing the verbal wrath of any zealous young female within earshot. So naturally, every boy in my middle school did that very thing whenever the opportunity arose.

Just as it is with Twilight today, all males under 16 were required by law to openly declare their  utter contempt of all-things-Titanic, especially DiCaprio, even if some of them hadn’t actually seen the movie. It was also customary to, as often as possible, inform the world Leo was gay. The purpose of this was, of course, to mask the bitter envy they felt once they realized DiCaprio possessed three things they never would: ridiculously good looks, millions of dollars and the adoration of every young girl in the free world. Someone like that had to be gay, right?

C'mon...let me on the goddamn raft!
I watched this dichotomy with detached amusement on a daily basis in my classroom. The girls breathlessly extolled Titanic’s greatness, occasionally lamenting the news DiCaprio already had a girlfriend (as if Leo was waiting for a 13-year-old to sweep him off his feet). Feeling emasculated, the boys would jeer and question Leo’s manhood. Ironically, these same guys had no problem ogling Britney Spears, but I never heard any resentful girls declaring her a lesbian.

In middle school, while the names may change, this eternal battle rages on, most recently over the Twilight movies. Currently, Edward & Bella are the greatest lovers of all time, Pattinson & Lautner are gay.

But unlike Twilight (which really is a bad movie), I still don’t understand exactly why so many boys instantly resented Titanic or Leo. Sure, there’s the sappy love story, but it’s also loaded with violence and scenes of massive destruction where hundreds of people die (what self-respecting adolescent guy doesn’t love that?). Yeah, DiCaprio had the girls swooning, but Kate Winslet was a nice bit of eye candy herself, and she was the one who got naked. Considering that bonus bit of boobage, all that really keeps Titanic from being the perfect adolescent male fantasy is Vin Diesel speeding around the ship's deck in a street racer.

When I first watched Titanic and witnessed the ensuing teen phenomenon, it was with adult eyes, and my wife never started clipping pictures of Leo from fan magazines (she had the hots for Harrison Ford anyway). However, I vaguely recall a time in middle school when Robby Benson was all the rage with the girls in my class, and thinking, what a fag. Of course I resented him. Mr. Benson likely got more tail during his few years of teen-idolness than I would in ten lifetimes.

So I guess I was no different back then than middle school boys are now.

The eternal battle rages on...

August 20, 2012

Highly-Debatable Lists: Top 10 Bathroom Books About Movies

For some people (like me), reading about movies is almost as fun as the movies themselves. Movie guides, genre history, reference books...I've got a ton of them on my shelf. The best ones are those which are, not only knowledgeable and comprehensive, but worth revisiting regularly, usually when I feel a huge crap coming on. For such a purpose, some books are better than others.

The books chosen for this list are based on Free Kittens' Crapper Scale:

5 Turds: Something small and handy which you can pick up, open to a random page and enjoy during the 5-10 minutes you're doing your business. These are the books you're more-than-likely to leave on the back of the toilet for the next time you need to unload.4 Turds: The same criteria, except its physical size may make it a bit more awkward to hold while sitting with your pants down.3 Turds: A fun little reference book, but if you suffer from chronic irritable bowel syndrome and spend much of your time in the bathroom, you'll likely run out of stuff to read pretty quickly.2 Turds: A book that's best-read the first time from beginning to end, but is still a decent pick to grab from your shelf later on to cart into the bathroom.1 Turd: These books are physically huge and heavy, and might distract you from the task at-hand.

It should be noted that the Free Kittens' Crapper Scale is not an assessment on the actual quality of the text itself, nor does it take into account whether or not any of them are available to download to your Kindle (the ultimate potty toy), iPad (still too bulky to enjoy) or cell-phone (who the hell takes their cell-phone to the bathroom?). In other words, these are all great books every movie fan should read, but some lend themselves better to potty time then others.

Click here to read Free Kittens' Top 10 Bathroom Books About Movies

August 17, 2012

Highly-Debatable Lists: Top 10 Movies Depicting Days of Future Past

Relatively speaking, it wasn't all that long ago that, for many of us, the year 2000 was the future. Even in the 1990s, it simply seemed like a date which only existed in science-fiction. Hard to believe that year came and went over a decade ago, without the flying cars we were promised, which is probably a good thing, considering the number of idiots on the road today (do you really want them flying over your head?). We still haven't explored other worlds or traveled through time. On the plus side, we haven't yet blown each other up.

Depicting possible futures has, of course, been a sci-fi staple ever since the genre was created. But inevitably, those future dates eventually show up on our calenders. It doesn't necessarily make a movie out of date (very little in 2001: A Space Odyssey has actually come-to-pass), but placing any sci-fi story during a specific year does tend to give it an expiration date, so to speak.

Click this link to read FKMG's favorite movies whose future is now behind us:
Top 10 Movies Depicting Days of Future Past

August 16, 2012


Starring Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans, James Whitmore, James Daly, Linda Harrison. Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner. (1968, 112 min).

As loving, doting and caring as my mom was when I was growing up, she had an occasional cruel streak which would rear its ugly head. No, she was never abusive or overtly mean. I was never spanked or punished for no reason. Mom has always been the most giving, sensitive & sentimental member of our family. She was, and still is, totally selfless and willing to do damn near anything to assure the happiness of those around her.

I'm sure she doesn't remember (and would likely deny it if she did), but on very rare occasion, 'Evil Mom' would burst out like The Thing erupting from its host. Despite her loving nature, there must have been a tiny, cackling voice inside, telling her to fuck with her son's head for the sake of a good laugh.

For example, one of my earliest childhood memories was sitting in a grocery cart while Mom did her shopping. Suddenly, out of the blue, she walked away from the cart, waved and said "Goodbye, honey" before disappearing into the next aisle for a minute or two, leaving me alone to panic and cry.
Then there was the time I was in my bedroom playing with Legos. I spent the better part of an hour constructing a detailed skyscraper that must have measured two feet high when completed. Proud of my hard work, I gingerly picked it up and went to the living room to show her the fruits of my labor. Mom took it in her hands, examined it for a few seconds, then let it drop to the floor, where it shattered back into tiny bricks. "Oops!" she said with a giggle.

Don't get me wrong...Mom wasn't intending to be mean or anything. She just thought what she did was funny. As a parent myself, I can sort-of relate. I love my kids, as most well-adjusted parents do. But every now and then, messing with their heads is sort-of a guilty pleasure. And as long as you don't go too far, most kids recover nicely.

But my mom did go too far once, when she thought it would be amusing to totally ruin Planet of the Apes for me.

This classic premiered on CBS one Friday night in ‘73, and I'd been looking forward to it all week. I'd heard of the movie, but other than the intriguing title, knew nothing about it. Thankful for my extended bedtime on weekends, I sat down to watch this three hour epic (padded by commercials, obviously).

The film is about three astronauts led by Charlton Heston, who travel 2,000 years into the future and crash land on a planet where apes are the dominant species and humans are the animalistic primates. The movie is violent, exciting and a lot of fun, especially to a ten-year-old kid. I was transfixed, and stayed glued to the living room sofa, even during the commercial breaks.

I didn't know what my parents were doing all this time, since I was the only one in the room, but with less than a half-hour to go, Mom popped her head in to check on me. It was during a particularly tense moment of the movie, and I barely noticed she was least until she said the worst thing a parent could possibly say to her son...

"By the way," she said with a mischievous grin. "the planet they crashed on is really Earth."

I’m pretty sure my jaw dropped at the time. I’ve been sitting here watching this for two-and-a-half hours, then you bounce in and give away the ending? Why would you do that?

“Mom!” I protested. Had I been several years older, my retort might have included a lot of expletives.

Apes rule the world...humans are the animals...
horse don't care.
She simply cackled and disappeared, leaving me alone to finish watching the movie she just ruined. When Heston finally discovers the Statue of Liberty half-buried in sand, confirming he’s been back home the entire time, it was almost anti-climactic. Mom gave away one of the greatest twist-endings in movie history, just for a giggle.

Talk about child abuse!

Years later, I was ready to defend my wife against potential attackers when she was unconsciously guilty of the same crime. We went to see Alien 3 on the night it premiered. This was an extremely anticipated sequel at the time. After it was over, as we were leaving the theater and passing a long line of people waiting for the next showing, my wife blurted out, “I can’t believe they killed Ripley!”

You wouldn’t believe the venomous glares directed right at her. If human eyes were equipped with weaponized lasers, I’d have been a widower right then and there. But she didn’t mean to ruin the movie for anyone else (and if you’ve ever seen Alien 3, you know the movie was already ruined before it was ever released); it was just an outpouring of emotion. It wasn’t like she went up to each individual in line and snickered, “Ripley dies.” If she had done that, I’d have cut my losses and sought marital bliss elsewhere.

With enough therapy, I got over what my mom did to me with Planet of the Apes, but I also developed zero-tolerance for anyone who takes actual pleasure in giving away movie endings (such as the legions of internet trolls today). What the fuck does someone hope to accomplish by doing that? Do they think others are impressed they’d already seen the film, are they just douchebags who think it’s funny to ruin the experience for someone else? I’m not sure why anyone gets off on doing this, just like I’m still unsure of why my mom thought it was so funny to ruin Planet of the Apes for me all those years ago. Yeah, I was ready to defend my wife for doing the same thing, but that was different. Aside from the fact I was sleeping with her, she wasn’t consciously trying to ruin a movie for others. She was just caught up in the moment.

For the rest of do not impress anyone by giving shit away. That's just an asshole thing to do. All you do is piss people off. So stop it...

...or I'll kill you.

August 14, 2012

Lucy's Scary Movie Guide

Lucy’s my 8-year-old daughter, and on weekends we enjoy staying up late to watch horror films. This all started over a year ago when we watched Poltergeist together. Since then, on Friday or Saturday nights when everyone is winding down, Lucy (who’s always been a night owl) will inevitably come up to me and ask, “Hey, Dad, wanna watch a scary movie?”

How can I say no to that? So off we go each Friday night to my office containing my wall of DVDs. Like the film geek I am, I have them all organized according to genre, and Lucy knows exactly where the horror section is. But unless we pick something she’s already seen, I decide what she’s ready or not ready to watch. Stuff like The Exorcist, Hostel and Saw are still off-limits. My wife has also nixed stuff that kinda freaked her out, like The Ring and The Descent.

August 12, 2012

METEOR: A Most-Inspirational Film

Starring Sean Connery, Natalie Wood, Karl Malden, Brian Keith, Henry Fonda, Martin Landau, Trevor Howard. Directed by Ronald Neame. (1979, 107 min).

This was one of the last (and worst) disaster movies of the 1970s. It was also one of the first (and worst) disaster movies to depict a nasty space rock threatening to obliterate the human race. Actually, I take that last statement back. Armageddon is worse, because at least Meteor doesn't subject us to Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler engaging in foreplay with animal crackers. Yuck.

Meteor was also one of the few big budget attempts by American-International Pictures (purveyors of cheap drive-in fodder since the 50s) to compete with bigger studios. It featured a huge cast which, considering the shitty special effects and plethora of stock footage, must have taken a majority of the budget. But hey, they managed to nab Sean Connery, who had to be laughing his ass off when they handed him his check.

But as bad as Meteor is, it did have one great thing going for it at the time. It inspired an absolutely bitchin’ pinball machine.

This was 1979, when there were still arcades in every mall, theater and pizza parlor. Sure, some lucky kids had an Atari 2600 at home, but that was a poor substitute for arcade games designed to devour your quarters like an aardvark sucking up ants. Back then, arcade games still had the best graphics, and although Pac-Man, Asteroids and Space Invaders were what most kids played, there was still room in those dark palaces for a few good old fashioned pinball machines.

Pinball was becoming somewhat archaic at the time, yet not totally extinct. I’ve always liked pinball, and if you’ve ever played it for any discernible length of time, you know it actually requires a shitload of skill. I hate beginning any statement with ‘back in the day,’ but back in the day, in arcade games, your quarter gave you three chances to get the highest score possible. Three. There was no continuing the game by plugging in more change, no do-over of the level you just failed, no online cheats to help you out. Once you used-up your three chances, that was it. Game over.

If you had skill, you could play forever with a single quarter. If not, you spent most of your weekly allowance trying to get skilled. To put it in terms modern kids would understand, if Portal was an arcade game, each level would likely cost you a half-year’s allowance to master.

Pinball is even harder because, unlike Pac-Man, each machine is different and mastering the flippers is a lot like shooting’s not a matter of simply hitting the ball. Getting it to go where you want takes a lot of finesse, not-to-mention a working knowledge of gravity. If you’re really good, just maybe you can achieve a score high enough to earn a free game. But no matter how skilled you are, sometimes you lose your ball anyway. Why? Because shit just happens. And taking your anger out on the machine will just cause it to shut down, kind of like when my wife and I fight. Perhaps this makes pinball a nice little microcosm of life.

Its unforgiving difficulty is probably why pinball is seldom the game of choice for gamers used to having infinite chances to overcome what stands in their way. Still, there’s a token machine or two standing in the corners of the few video arcades left, blinking and chiming, inviting you to part with the change in your pocket.

So why are they still around? That’s easy...they are enticing, flashy and often talk to you as you walk past. But most importantly, even though the game is essentially the same, pinball machines have individual personalities, not simply something programmed for a video screen. And when you kick-ass at a pinball game, you really do feel like the master of the arcade. But unlike modern console games with an actual story and final outcome, you don’t ever ‘beat’ a pinball machine; no matter your final score, it is always possible to achieve a higher one.

Anyway, back to ‘79, when pinball was an endangered was around this time game designers started coming up with new and exciting ways to separate kids from their cash, like multi-ball and digital readouts similar to the calculators we were just starting to carry in our backpacks to school.

Meteor was the first arcade game I ever saw that was inspired by a movie. Today, console games based on blockbuster movies are practically the norm. In fact, of the 50 highest grossing movies/franchises of all time, only seven have yet to inspire any kind of electronically-based game.* And just as most movies based on video games are pretty shitty, the same usually applies vise versa. Most movie-based games are cynically thrown together to capitalize on an brand name.

But the Meteor pinball machine was different, and not just because movie-based gaming was rare at the time. The machine was flashy, fast and loud. It was also one of the earliest to employ multi-ball (a feature where you could unleash three balls at-once by hitting the right targets, thus racking up a shitload of points). Unlike pinball games of old, this one was semi-computerized, and the fury of light & sound always made you feel more skilled than you actually were. Most importantly, the game was a hell of a lot better than the movie which inspired it.

Me and a few friends first played the machine in the lobby of the Southgate theater, where we had just bought our tickets to see same the film it was based on. We still had about 20 minutes to kill, so we started plugging quarters into this sexy machine. The damn thing was so addicting that Meteor (the movie) had already been playing for a half hour before any of us checked the time. Since our pockets were still loaded with change, we mutually agreed to play pinball for another hour while waiting for Meteor’s next showing.

Ironically, the movie came and went within a few weeks - it really is one of the worst disaster movies ever made - but the Meteor pinball machine stuck around in the Southgate’s lobby for over a year, and I plugged a few quarters into it every time I visited the theater. I don’t know how much American-International Pictures actually made from licensing the title out to Stern Electronics (the company to created the machine), but I know they ended up with a shitload of my allowance.

* Titanic, The Hunger Games, The Passion of the Christ (and who the hell would want to play it?), Forrest Gump, The Sixth Sense, Inception and the films in the Twilight Saga

August 10, 2012

Highly Debatable Lists: Top 10 Zombie Movies NOT Directed by Romero

I love zombie movies, and with as many as I've seen over the years, I initially assumed coming up with a Top 10 not helmed by Romero would be easy. Not true at all. Although I love the genre and zombies are more popular now than ever, the number of truly terrible films is staggering. The fact that half of the films on this list are comedies, and a few others aren't even very good, is testament to, not only how good Romero is with the genre he created, but that most would-be successors to his throne don't know what the hell they're doing.

Click here for our highly-debatable list:
Top 10 Zombie Movies NOT Directed by George A. Romero

August 9, 2012

INSIDIOUS and My Living Room Exile

Justin Beiber: The Death Metal Years
Starring Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins, Barbara Hershey, Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell. Directed by James Wan. (2011, 102 min).

My youngest daughter, Lucy, is currently eight-years-old, and my unlikely little horror buddy. My oldest daughter used to hold the title before she decided she’d much rather hang out with her friends on Facebook than on the living room couch with her old man. I can understand that. I didn’t want to hang out with my parents when I was 17, either.

I’ve always loved horror movies, and they make up a sizeable part of my DVD collection. I usually watch them late at night after the wife and kids have gone to bed. Lucy was well-aware of this, and after having watched most of her Disney and Nickelodeon videos dozens of times each, her curiosity was peaked: “Hey, Daddy, when can I watch a scary movie with you?” I was a bit touched because I knew the main reason she wanted to watch a horror movie was to spend some time with me. Naturally, I was more-than-happy to oblige. After all, I was roughly the same age when I started watching them.

With few exceptions, my wife does not like horror films, and was very reluctant to allow such a father-daughter activity. I suggested starting with something like Poltergeist, which was fun and scary without being overly gory. Since Poltergeist was one of the few horror movies my wife liked, she agreed, and the three of us sat on the couch and watched it together. And yeah, it scared Lucy, like it scares everybody. I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t scared by Poltergeist. But unlike The Omen or The Exorcist, watching Poltergeist is like riding a roller coaster; scary as hell during the ride, but once it’s over, all you think about is how fun it was. It's not the kind of movie which lingers in your head and screws up your sleep.
Lucy loved Poltergeist and, like all kids who’ve been exposed to a whole new world, wanted more. So, on weekends, I tried to find other movies in my collection I felt she was old enough to see. Fortunately for me, Lucy is very sharp, with a good sense of humor and a developing love of movies in general. So the two of us took in Tremors, Jaws, The Mummy, Gremlins, Arachnophobia and, eventually, Shaun of the Dead. To my surprise, Lucy especially liked Shaun, partially because it is very funny, but also because of the gore (to my wife’s chagrin, even though she likes Shaun as well). Shaun of the Dead led to Zombieland, which Lucy liked even more. In fact, she seemed to love zombie movies in particular.

Some of you may think I’m being I’m being an irresponsible parent, exposing a child to such things. But like I said, Lucy’s a sharp kid. She knows movie gore is just movie gore, and zombies do not reflect real life in any way whatsoever, which is likely why she took such a liking to them. Zombies are actually pretty silly creatures, and most kids know that.

We went through most of my zombie flicks in ensuing weekends (though I covered her eyes during Linnea Quigley’s infamous cemetery dance in Return of the Living Dead; I’ll always be uptight watching nudity around my daughters). Yeah, most zombie movies are plenty-gory, but there’s sense of playfulness in the good ones that makes the carnage easier to take.

Once those were exhausted, we moved on to Alien, The Shining, Cat’s Eye, The Thing, Christine, Creepshow and all five Final Destination movies (I bought her the FD films as a birthday gift, which got me a few stunned stares from other kids’ parents at her party. But Lucy loved them, knowing full-well they are nothing but bloody Road Runner cartoons).

Although she blasphemed by declaring Alien boring (I briefly considered donating her to science), Lucy quickly became a fine connoisseur of movie horror.

Before any of you claim I’m a bad dad, I’ll have you know that I watched every single one of these movies with her, and chose titles based on my knowledge of my own kid. In other words, I do not count on someone else telling me what’s appropriate for Lucy to watch.

And until we watched Insidious, I subjected her to nothing I hadn’t previously seen and deemed unsuitable. She does not watch films she doesn’t understand (like The Exorcist), torture porn, Italian gore, serial killers, mindless slasher films or anything nihilistic. Also, since The Descent was the last movie that actually scared me - and I’m not easily scared - my wife drew the line at that one.

Then one afternoon at our local library, the DVD of Insidious was on the shelf. I’d heard quite a bit about it, mostly from middle schoolers I teach, but never bothered to see in the theater. I kind-of resent the watered-down PG-13 garbage that has passed for horror lately, stuff which mostly appeals to the mall-rat crowd. But, hey, Insidious was at the library, it was free, and all I had to lose was a couple of hours of my life. Besides, I’d already tapped every horror movie of my own I was willing to let Lucy watch, and since this was a PG-13 ghost story, I figured Insidious would be a fun way for me & Lucy to cap-off the week.

"Hee Haw! Hee Haw!"
Insidious is about a family who just moved into a new home, and already there’s some weird-ass crap going on...strange noises, things lurking in the shadows...the usual stuff when you buy a haunted house. Meanwhile, one of their kids falls into an inexplicable coma and stays that way for months. Apparitions keep popping up with more frequency, and soon the mother is convinced the house is haunted, so they move into a new place. But all these nasty ghosts tag along for the ride. Turns out it’s not the house that was’s the comatose kid, being held in some sort of limbo because a nasty demon needs him to break out of the purgatory it dwells in.

While not the most original story on Earth (what modern movie is?), I have to admit, as mall-rat horror goes, Insidious isn’t bad at all. It reminded me a lot of Poltergeist, only a bit more serious. The movie’s loaded with creepy imagery and several scenes which admittedly made me jump. It sorta falls apart at the end by explaining way too much, but I had a good time.

However, the movie scared the living shit out of Lucy. By the twenty-minute mark, she was tucked under my arm and gripping me as though her life depended on it. She covered her eyes a lot, screamed a few times and jumped like she’d been electrocuted whenever something nasty popped up. I asked her several times if she wanted me to turn it off, but she kept saying no. Considering the stuff I’ve subjected her to before, I was a bit surprised how scared she was.

Then I recalled my own childhood, when Jaws scared me so goddamn bad that I slept with my parents after watching it. To this day, Jaws remains one of my favorite films because of the sheer terror it instilled in me as a child.

Lucy was experiencing the same thing as we watched Insidious. When it was over, she asked to sleep with her mom because she was a little freaked out. In fact, she slept in our room for most of that week, which meant I was relegated to the living room sofa. Yet, during the day, she talked about Insidious all the time, telling everyone who’d listen how scary it was and how much she enjoyed it. She wanted to watch it again a few days later, but my wife nixed that; she was still a bit miffed at me because of the new sleeping arrangements, and told the both of us, “No more scary movies.” That rule lasted roughly until the following weekend, when me and Lucy fired-up some popcorn and watched Cloverfield (which put her to sleep).

For me, Insidious is no classic, but it is an atmospheric and fun little horror film, one of the better ones I’d seen lately. For Lucy, I imagine it’ll be her own Jaws...the first movie that truly scared the crap out of her, one she’ll probably always have a nostalgic fondness for as she gets older.

August 2, 2012

20 Things We Learn From WATERWORLD

Starring Kevin Costner, Dennis Hopper, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Tina Majorino, Michael Jeter. Directed by Kevin Reynolds (mostly by Kevin Costner). (1995, 135 min).

1. Civilization may be submerged under hundreds of feet of water, but there are still plenty of cigarettes, flares, booze, gasoline, guns & ammo to go around.

2. Paper is extremely valuable (though we don't actually learn why).

3. It is possible to move a 1,000 foot, multi-ton oil tanker through the water with just a few dozen makeshift oars.

4. Jet-Skis always explode on impact.

5. Child abuse is alive and well in the future. Only truly asshole parents would ink a painfully elaborate tattoo on their toddler's back, and then take off to an island paradise without her.

6. The 'dry land' found at the end of the film must be Mt. Everest, since it is the highest point on Earth, and is the only land not completely submerged.

7. People in the future no longer have to spend days decompressing after venturing thousands of feet under water.

8. There must be a Fresh Water Fairy in the future, the only explanation why even a drop can be found on a planet totally covered in sea water.

9. Pee makes a tasty beverage.

10. Kevin Costner has finally claimed the title of "Worst Hair in Hollywood," long-held by Michael Caine.

Alright...Who peed in the pool?!?
11. SPAM really does last a long freaking time (but where are the Twinkies?).

12. Universal Pictures thinks its audience is comprised of idiots. Even though the film opens with the polar caps melting and flooding the entire world (through admittedly-clever use of the Universal logo), we are provided an ominous voice-over explaining what we are all sitting there watching.

13. Dennis Hopper is the only cast member who looks like he had fun making this movie.

14. Hey! Jack Black!

15. George Miller deserves co-story credit.

16. Despite the fact they've been submerged for 500 years, crayons still work!

17. Using a ramp, it is possible to for a water-skier clear a thirty-foot steel wall and land safely of the other side.

18. Waterworld, Dances with Wolves and The Postman, could be considered Kevin Costner's "Messiah Complex Trilogy."

19. Horses will be one of the few animals to survive the apocalypse.

20. Despite being considered one of the biggest box-office flops in history (which isn't actually true, by the way), Waterworld isn't nearly as god-awful as its reputation. As post-apocalypse movies go, it is still a lot more fun (and has a lot more action) than Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.

August 1, 2012

Free Kittens' GODZILLA Double Feature


Starring Raymond Burr, Takashi Shimura, Akira Takarada, Momoko Kochi. Directed by Ishiro Honda & Terry Morse. (1956, 80 min).

A few words about a concept known as “Francie Science.”

Named after my dear wife, Francie Science is a cause-and-effect study which does not actually require any scientific knowledge. If it sounds good in your head, and you can effectively articulate your theory to others, then it must be true. Case in point: Earlier this year we were having problems with a clogged bathtub drain. No matter what kind of industrial shit we used to try and open it up, the tub would literally take hours to drain.

I like to brush my teeth while showering in the morning (it's as close as I ever come to multitasking), but my wife applied a little Francie Science, coming to the conclusion that my toothpaste spit was congealing in the pipes, using body hair to form an impenetrable bond that was impervious to water. Hence, the clogged drain was my fault (someone let me know if this theory is actually true, because we have a leak in our roof, and a tube of Crest is a hell of a lot cheaper than buying some sealant at Home Depot).

I say all this because, without Francie Science, there wouldn’t be any movies like Godzilla - King of the Monsters, or any other monster flick from the 50s. This time the culprit is radiation, which mutates a lizard into a 300 foot behemoth, hell-bent on sinking ships and knocking down buildings. If radiation truly does make everything bigger and more destructive, I wonder why no one’s ever thought of using it as a male enhancement product.

Godzilla is arguably the most famous monster-on-the-rampage movie after King Kong, and an Americanized version of the original Japanese film, Gojira, which was a thinly disguised allegory for the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But Americans understandably don’t want to be reminded of that, so we get lots of added footage of Raymond Burr as Steve Martin, a wild and crazy reporter who happens to be in Japan at the time of the attacks. Of the two versions, I have to say I prefer watching a guy in a lizard suit stomp on models without all that WWII guilt. If want to feel like an asshole for being an American, I can just watch FOX News.

But even without the anti-nuke message, Godzilla is pretty somber for a dumb popcorn movie. It is still rather chuckle-worthy because of the atrocious dubbing, the hilariously bad attempts at inserting an American actor into an already finished film, and of course, a heapin’ helpin’ of Francie Science.


Starring Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno, Maria Pitillo, Hank Azaria, Kevin Dunn, Michael Lerner, Harry Shearer. (1998, 139 min).

It’s still amazing to me how hated this movie was when it came out. After all, this is a remake of a 1950s Japanese monster movie, not The Seventh Seal. What the hell were people expecting? Of course the movie is big, loud and dumb, much like Independence Day (made by the same guys).

But over-hype probably killed Godzilla; back then, you couldn’t go ten minutes without another having another Godzilla trailer shoved up your ass. Maybe one should fault Columbia’s marketing department instead, because the film certainly delivers what it promises...lots of massive wholesale destruction of famous New York landmarks.

The title monster is the result of nuclear testing by the French (now we have another reason to hate those guys). It ain’t long before this 300-foot lizard is stomping all over the globe looking for food, and fish is his meal of choice, judging by the attack on several trawlers and a cargo ship loaded with cans of tuna.

The military recruits Nick Tatopoulos (Matthew Broderick), who studies the effects of radiation on worms, to head the team tracking down the monster. Meanwhile, Godzilla pops up in the Big Apple, looking for a place to raise a family, and it turns out that he's actually a she (even though everyone still calls Godzilla "a he...a very unusual he") and wants to lay some eggs, deciding the secluded confines of Manhattan Island are ideal for nesting (okay, so he’s stupid). The military responds by doing everything they can to destroy the monster - one intentionally hilarious running gag is that, during each conflict, the military ends up destroying more of Manhattan than Godzilla does.

But unlike the Godzilla of old, this one is quick, and smarter than most of the characters in the movie...he can burrow through the ground like the moles in my yard, swim like a fish, and hide inside buildings to ambush attacking helicopters (and apparently knows where the copters are going to be before they even get there). He also seems to be able to change size at will; one minute he’s 300 feet tall, the next minute he’s burrowing through New York’s subway tunnels. But who really cares about such inconsistencies when we get to see Madison Square Garden explode (I always hated the Knicks, anyway), the Brooklyn Bridge collapse, and the Chrysler building topple to the ground? In addition, ships are destroyed and sunk in loving slow motion, a submarine explodes, and dozens of buildings are devastated with the flick of a lizard’s tail. Godzilla also features an unlikely-but-rousing car chase through Manhattan, where our heroes are in a cab, being chased by the vengeful Godzilla after they destroy his eggs.

Hi, I'm the mysterious foreign guy. Impressed?
Yeah, the movie’s loaded with dumb and illogical characters - Jean Reno, as a mysterious French agent trying to cover up the whole mess, never sees the utter futility of his task - and some glaring plot holes (if you’re in a copter being chased by a 300-foot monster, why not fly up to 400 feet?). But Godzilla isn’t a documentary, for Christ’s sake. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a Domino’s pizza; it’s good going down, and it delivers exactly what you expect, so what more do you want?