Saturday, January 31, 2009

Top Ten Movie Shows To Watch at 3:14 A.M.

As you may have gathered, I've seen a couple or three movies in my life so far. Sometimes I watch them at unusual hours to get a different perspective. The best time to watch some of this stuff tends to be, at least for me, in the middle of the night at approximately 3:14 A.M. Here's a list I compiled, in no specific order, of 10 of my Favorite Middle of the night Movie snacks...
Desperately Seeking Susan (1985) Director: Susan Seidelman
Madonna, Rosanna Arquette and Aidan Quinn running around big bad New York City. There are, among many key ingredients: Mistaken identities (Which really works at 3 A.M. as the night owl in some of us can attest to feeling like a completely different person at such loony times) A weird, wacky stalker and a trip or two to the Cinema. And what better image of seeing Madonna dance to her own song in some East Village Club? Desperately Seeking Susan captures a mood and feeling you don't often find in the usual 80's comedy. It's also authentic New York. Just get into the groove already.
Trading Places (1983) Director: John Landis
One of the most quotable movies ever, can also be for some of us our most watched movie ever. Recently a friend recited the entire Train Scene dialogue verbatim to me. He apparently use to watch this film every night before bed for many, many years. It's addictive stuff. Give it a go and try it for yourself every night. It'll always bring a smile to your face. Remember when Eddie Murphy was a comic genius? Are you old enough to remember that far back? Certainly you remember Jamie Lee Curtis, regardless of your age... Beef Jerky Time!  

Friday The 13th - Any of 'em (1980-1989) Director: Sean Cunningham & Friends Watching horror films in the middle of the night might not be the advice for most, but if you're feeling up for it, what better way to treat yourself to the gory pleasures of the original series of films under the Paramount logo. Witness many nubile young persons get hacked to pieces with various weapons and garden tools; Witness your brain in total shutdown with giddy delight. Jason has only his mother to thank...And so should we for birthing such a wacky mixed up kid to entertain us with such carnage.

Foul Play (1978) Directed By Colin Higgins
This Chevy Chase/Goldie Hawn vehicle earns a place in my why-can't-I-sleep-yet heart for always being there for me, whenever I needed it most. Like the movie's famous Barry Manilow theme song suggested, I was ready to take a chance again. Ready to put my love on the line. And gosh, I really do love this zany comedy. It's filled with great episodic moments and one liners... It's nuttiness (killer albinos!) can most be appreciated late at night when all sensibilities can easily be thrown out of the window. Or down the stairs along with the dwarf! All the actors have such a great chemistry and rapport. Burgess Meredith and his karate moves will forever bring a smile to my face. He's so god damned cute in this.

Miracle Mile (1989) Directed By Steve De Jarnatt
What better way to spend 3:14 A.M. then with a movie about the end of world set during one night, around 3 A.M.? Perhaps a bit heady for the noggin' at 3, MIRACLE taps into your emotions, fears and anxieties like no one's business. Even more so because of that time of the night. Still, the movie somehow finds hope, even in devastation. You'll find yourself moved and touched. It's required viewing for humanity. Sleepy or not.

The Heavenly Kid (1985) Directed By Cary Medoway
Certainly not the best of movies ever made, but, The Heavenly Kid is a picture I find that only works at 3 A.M. This is pure fluff about a rebel without a cause knockoff type who dies and gets a shot at going to heaven by becoming guardian angel to the son he never knew some 17 years later. The odd mixing of greaser 60's shtick and wacky 80's teen comedy never really gels until you watch it late at night and don't have to think too much about it. Also pretty odd are the scenes in heaven... or is it wait station... whatever... They are pretty atmospheric and lend into that 3 A.M. where-the-hell-is-everybody-and-what-am-I-doing-here vibe. Hearing it's pure 80's cheesy theme song "On My Way" transports me way back to watching this thing when it played on HBO endlessly late at night...

Love Story (1970) Directed By Arthur Hiller
Screw watching this on a Sunday afternoon while it's raining out or when you invite the girls over for GIRLS NITE IN with Kleenex and endless varietals of tea on hand. The best time to watch the ultimate movie tear-jerker is late at night peeking out under a blanket when no one's looking. Especially for us macho men who want and look forward to our emotions being toyed and manipulated with by this well manufactured and polished Hollywood work. Love Means Never having to admit you watched it, dude.

Just Before dawn (1981) Directed By Jeff Lieberman
Admittedly, I'd watch this well made slasher flick any time of the day, but I feel a movie with such a title as such DARES you to watch it at that time. And right along with it's characters, you'll have to try to endure through the night. Witness hikers meeting inbred locals. George Kennedy talking to his plants and Horse, Lucille. Creepy waterfalls, rope bridges and abundant atmosphere brewing everywhere. Most memorably, witness a scene that involves one's transformation into a fist killing machine. Jeff Lieberman's picture works as a simple slasher and as a more complex metaphor to the dangers lurking beyond what we know to be natural and our inclinations to not worry about such things until we have to. A theme Lieberman explored earlier with his film "Squirm". Also great for a middle of the night watch.

Into The Night (1985) Directed By John Landis
Another John Landis film... This one much more specifically about the middle of the night/I can't sleep blues has it's lead character, as played by Jeff Goldblum, go through a series of nightmares because of his lack of sleep. Like some of the best movies that play well at night, Into The Night has an abundance of strange scenes that tend to be more episodic. And the movie really captures a unique tone that can only be found late at night when you get mixed up with wacky women and the terrorists she may piss off. Dig on B.B. King's music that fills the movie with a total blues club atmosphere. It's a great contrast to the comedy.

*The Temp (1993) Directed By Tom Holland
Make no mistake about it, The Temp is pure and total trash. But, when you're up at 3AM, I urge everyone, and I mean everyone, to tune in to The Temp. It's the perfect movie. You get mystery, the promise of sleazy sex (courtesy of not yet Anorexic Lara Flynn Boyle) death by wasps, missing depositions, killer copiers, a member of the A-Team, Oscar nominee Faye Dunaway, Oscar winner Timothy Hutton, that dude from Wings, umbrellas as a key plot device, killer cookies and countless other treats. This movie at 3:14 A.M. is better than Citizen Kane and The Godfather combined.

*See also any of the other myriads of "Fill in The Blank From Hell" movies from the 90's. They all work at 3:14 AM!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Gods Of Cinema: Joel Schumacher

I realize starting off a series of salutes to filmmakers who have captured my heart with someone of the percieved caliber like Joel Schumacher is sketchy at best, but, Cinema Du Meep truly believes the heart wants want the heart want. Right? Mr. Schumacher's career in cinema is chock full of ups and downs, seemingly the bad far outweighing the good. But taking a closer look I found myself enjoying, for the most part, much of Schumacher's oeuvre regardless. Though not without drawing the line at a picture or two that just left me cold. No one's ever accused Mr. Schumacher of ever being a maverick director. In fact, he's usually associated with the word "Hack". But more often than not he simply makes capably made films within the studio system parameters. Going through his work I often found common threads. For one, Mr. Schumacher's films for the most part are pretty modern. He tends to make movies that are really grounded in the time period they are in. Naturally this will date a film, but it's bold when a director wants to keep things fresh and just make films that interest him at that certain point of time. Witness someone like Martin Scorsese. When he makes his historical epics or biopics, I often spend the entire film wishing they had the bristling immediacy of movies like Mean Streets or After Hours. In other words, someone wake me up after they are over, please. Also, Mr. Schumacher's pictures tend to have characters in desperate situations, coming to terms with whatever grievances through other human contact. Through the darkness of it all, at the end of the day, there's a glimmer of light. You find a real sense of hopefulness in humanity. A far cry from his peers who often make extremely dark or light films that leave you feeling nothing but indifference. And then there's the cheesy, glossy goodness. And this is where Mr. Schumacher excels best. Over the past few years he's made films that were a bit more rough at the edges and emotionally complex, but as interesting as some of those are, can they compare to the totally awesome 80's goodness of THE LOST BOYS (1987), D.C. CAB (1983) or ST. ELMO'S FIRE (1985)? Can we really blame Mr. Schumacher for going to over-the-top wacky places the 2 Batman's sequels in the 90s (BATMAN FOREVER (1995)/ BATMAN & ROBIN (1997) went to? Okay, maybe we could, but those films seemed like more than anything of wanting to inspire memories of the 60's Television show. But now complete with a never ending budget for neon and glitter. As camp as they were, they had a knowing sense of humor about themselves. And you know what? I kind of prefer them to Nolan's ultra serious representations with his 2 outings in the past few years. But then again, what do I know. Superhero movies were never my thing. My heart really only belongs to the first 2 Christopher Reeve Superman romps.
Did I really just defend those Batman movies? Lord, have mercy.
As silly as a Schumacher can get, they definitely can get pretty serious. He's made some films that seemed pretty angry. I would count among his best: FALLING DOWN (1993), TIGERLAND (2003) and PHONE BOOTH (2002) The last being a script by my one of my favorite filmmakers, Larry Cohen. PHONE BOOTH by in large was pretty ignored and chalked up as a gimmick instead of a movie. I felt it was pretty taut and captivating and exactly the kind of plot I'd expect to see a couple of Native New Yorkers like Larry & Joel cook up. And after learning the film was made more on a minuscule budget (at least for a Hollywood film) and in only 10 days, I was all the more impressed. Then there are his film's that kind of sit at the low end of the totem poll. Some better than others. COUSINS (1989), 8MM (1999), BAD COMPANY (2002) and his 2 John Grisham Adaptations A TIME TO KILL (1996) and THE CLIENT (1994) just exist as working gigs. And why not... I've also been surprised by a couple of his films that I didn't think I would care much for... FLAWLESS (1999) and THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (2004) are from opposite worlds yet they share a real sense of warmth within. I would say Flawless & 8MM mark a beginning to a more rough and tumble aesthetic period for Schumacher and I think it's where he as a filmmaker just lets go and enjoys what can just be cooked up as you work. Flawless has a pretty conventional plot; it's a fish out of water story essentially, but Schumacher layers a lot of humanity into it. And by the end credits, you totally love those guys. 8mm, not so much! PHANTOM is just a lovingly crafted movie. A real love letter to fans of the story and musical, and a stunning visual for the cinema fan. Mr. Schumacher has always had a real sense of visuals, and he brings them alive in some of his films. DYING YOUNG (1991) and FLATLINERS (1990) aren't the best of the bunch, but while watching both I often get caught up in that style. It really transcends. Even the inert Jim Carrey Thriller THE NUMBER 23 (2007) had a sumptuous style that almost lured me in. Well, almost. And did I mention the cheesy wonderfulness of kids coming to terms with their problems either via Vampire Slaying or opening all of your windows on a cold Boston day in a furniture repossessed apartment while you lay on the floor cowering in a fetal position? With those 2 films alone, he has my heart. And yes, I did very much enjoy the forgotten Lily Tomlin vehicle he directed that was THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING WOMAN (1981). Not a bad way to make a feature debut (though he already had directed a couple of TV-Movies) And I should mention he was an established screenwriter by the time he had made Lily Tomlin get tiny with the musical driven scripts for THE WIZ (1978), CAR WASH (1976) and SPARKLE (1976). Mr. Joel Schumacher, an openly gay filmmaker, came out of costume design, wrote a few flicks, Directed about 20 more and has a few in the pipeline. He puts in the work, he pays the bills, and he has me entertained. Here's to 20 more. As bumpy as some of them just might be.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Don't You Forget About Me: Scenes From The Class Struggle in Beverly Hills (1989)

For the inaugural edition (a lot of those lately, eh?) I went with a movie I absolutely love that came out 20 years ago. Paul Bartel's final film, and I think his comic masterpiece:


It's as zany as an 80's comedy of manners can be. It's also wittily done and performed to perfection by it's entire cast. Paul Bartel goes out in style. He will be missed.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

New Movie Show Review: Let The Right One In (2008)

Tomas Alfredson's Let The Right One arrives at a time when the vampire film finds itself in a rebirth. With hits like 30 Days Of Night, True Blood and Twilight in the mainstream and the promise of more (Remake, Sequel or otherwise) in the pipeline, this particular blood-filled sub-genre hits another stride with this moody Swedish import.

In LET, we find a familiar adolescent movie scenario. 12 year old Oskar finds himself being bullied by the kids at school. Naturally There will be several scenes of Oskar being mercilessly tortured by these jive-ass turkeys, and ultimately he has to learn to stand up for himself.

Early on, Oskar strikes up a friendship with fellow 12 year old, Eli. She's literally the girl next door and soon a romance starts brewing between the two. For Oskar it stems more of natural adolescent curiosity, and for Eli, it is to truly connect to someone more her age. Or at least the age she was before her life had changed forever. A change of course that has left her with an appetite only for blood.


The picture's primarily focus is on this relationship, and this is where it is most alive. I found myself captivated and curious to where things were going, even if I knew ultimately things would lead only to carnage and in true bergman-esque film fashion, a feeling of real despair. The usual vampire movie will rely on other films for a shorthand with vampire lore and the ever bending of the rules originally layed down in Bram Stoker's novel. This film forgoes any focus on that and is much more content on homaging more artfully made films like that of Swede master Ingmar Bergman or the devestating emotions yet honest innocence you can find in a picture like Louis Malle's Murmur Of The Heart.

Hoyte Van Hoytema's cinematography for the most part keeps things appropriately bleak and haunting. The swedish suburbs where it is set, and the endless snow surrounding everyone in any given scene, give it a real feeling of isolation. I think the film makes some big missteps anytime it dwells too long on the adult characters. And there are definite lulls between some of the set pieces or scenes that are emotionally compelling. I won't even go into the scene involving a laughable CGI cat attack! If the film were a bit more tight and focused, I think it would have highlighted it's admirable strengths.

Regardless, LET goes to places most american films about the horrors of adolescence don't go to very often, or at all these days. A teen Vampire romance like Twilight may have it's legions of fans, but you won't find a more a more sincere and challenging vampire tale like this one. And all you have to do when asked to let this picture in, is to just say yes.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

SUMMER, 1987

August 17th to be exact. I remember this because it was 1 day before my 12th birthday. I had just treated myself to go see "Adventures In Babysitting" for the 4th time that summer (I went on to see it that summer at least 2 more times) and as I exited the movie theatre I noticed Susan strolling by. That particular time in summer there was a street festival going on and being that it was bensonhurst it was a very big event. Summer usually culminated in this festival and even though it had begun as a catholic tradition, it was a free-for-all and excuse just to walk in the middle of the street. Screw the cars. Tons of people were everywhere shopping at the make shift stalls and picking up endless treats to eat. Sausage and an italian-american doughy dessert called Zeppoles seemed to be the thing to have.

Through the stampeding crowds I still managed to notice Susan walking by. Perhaps it was my soon-to-be 12 year old brain feeling woozy from the darkened movie theater's delights, but I quickly decided to follow her to wherever she was going. This is where I just admitted to stalking a girl that I had a crush on all summer long. Heck, all year long as she was in my Home Room and most of my classes that year at Seth Low Junior High School in Brooklyn, New York USA. It could also be that I confused Susan's charms for that of new burgeoning movie star Elisabeth Shue (AKA: She who had kicked a soccer ball to my head and awoke the beast within from The Karate Kid) It was my favorite picture that year and I went to it seemingly all the time. They did share similar looks as both sported curly, dirty blonde tresses and a kind of general girl next door vibe. I was almost 12, give me a break! I weaved in and out of this human traffic; narrowly avoiding the meatheads and the huge hair they called girlfriends who seemed to be everywhere. I ducked behind stalls and whirly twirly kiddy rides hoping she wouldn't know I was re-imagining The Police's Every Breath You Take right behind her. I came close a couple times because the friend that she was with, who's name I totally forget (You'll learn that I am very good at this) almost spotted me when I got too close for comfort. God, I use to love that show! Anyway, she made her way up through the festival and down the street and I watched as she parted ways with her friend. She had then ducked into a house that I eventually learned was where she lived.

I suppose I should have felt sleazy following her home but my only intention was to work up some courage and ask her out. I never did. Though we eventually became minor friends for a short period of time, I think I was just fodder until her usual friends came onto the scene. And it probably didn’t help that the only fight I ever got into throughout my entire adolescent existence involved a softball and Susan’s twin brother just 2 months prior. I believe that particular day I was full of testosterone because I had gone to see “Predator” just the day before with 4 of my friends--none of whom I can seem to picture in my head anymore, let alone their names. I do however recall seeing Predator opening day, June 12th of that year. I remember my friends being so utterly psyched that we were able to get into an R rated film without parents around. Little did they realize by June 12th 1987 I was already a master of being able to get into any movie, anywhere, anytime. Did I have a beard then too?

1987 was a year of crushes for me, whatever their names were, but it was much more of a year of movie shows…I saw just about everything I could. That summer I would take in 3 or 4 movies a day alone all summer. Everything from Superman IV: The Quest For Peace to The Untouchables, The Believers, Wish You Were Here, The Gate, Roxanne, Revenge Of The Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise, Matewan, Who’s That Girl?, The Witches Of Eastwick, RoboCop, Benji: The Hunted, Jaws 4: The Revenge!, Summer School, Maid To Order, The Lost Boys (with real life actual vampires in attendance!--more about that another time) and even smarty arty Jean De Florette. I just had to see them all and sometimes repeatedly. I would often flash my student ID and hop on the subway back into my old stomping grounds of Hell’s Kitchen and Times Square where I originally grew up just to go watch movies. In theaters filled with rats, bums, hos, hypodermics and permanently glucose-d floors no less. Since I was exposed to these wonderful, natural elements of 1980s New York City living there at such a young age none of it frightened or deterred me from this growing passion. Horror movie shows, while scaring the crap out of me, became a constant until I launched myself away from them for a bit to retreat to a screwball comedy, fantasy or foreign film. This came about because my Grandmother, who raised me from age 5 onward, would soon become obsessed with them herself and they were becoming all too encompassing for my already screwed-with head. Eventually I had returned to the Scary Movie shows, restoring balance in my movie universe and I haven’t looked back since. And sometimes, I even go into the basement even though the movie trailer clearly said DON’T.

After the summer of ‘87 life for me was just a bit different… I entered a permanent state of euphoria where the only things that made me seem like I was home was my darkened seat 4 rows back in the center and the theater’s policy up on the screen…No, thank you for being there for me to come to, Loews…. that brought me through the very end where I learned that when in Hollywood I should totally visit Universal Studios. I eventually did visit some 20 years later and it just wasn’t cool at all. But movie shows, no matter the quality, always are. This obsession coincided with a movie collecting passion which began that year as films were becoming more affordable to own on the VHS format. There were stores popping up everywhere offering used Videos for some bucks and I quickly started playing scavenger and invaded them on weekdays after school and weekends. My collection kept growing through the late 80’s onward until this day, but I never gave up going to the picture shows. Nothing would ever match that experience. But still, my own personal copy of a favorite Teen Slob or Sex comedy of the 1980s on VHS and later DVD is a terrible thing to waste. And “Secret Admirer” I’m totally talking to you.

Susan, it turned out, was a monster New Kids On The Block Fan. I’m talking bedroom-plastered-everywhere-with-posters-and-teen-beat-photos-galore-fan. It was rumored she dyed her curls to a color that suited Joey or Donny or whoever best. And no, I didn’t go back to her house and further engage in Every Breath You Take stalking to authenticate any of this. She admitted it freely after being probed by someone at school and I merely just eavesdropped—a much more minor invasion of privacy, don’t you think? So as it happens, Susan didn’t have “The Right Stuff” after all. But I did. On VHS even!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

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