Sunday, October 31, 2010

Movie Update 4: Halloween Netflix Marathon

Since it's Halloween, and Sunday, and I have nothing to do all day, I decided to spend it watching some horror comedies on Netflix Instant and write about it live. I don't think any of the first three films are supposed to be very scary, but hopefully they'll have some fun with horror themes. The last one isn't really a comedy, but something of a cult classic that should hopefully provide some campy laughs. Finally I'll wrap things up with the premiere episode of AMC's adaptation of The Walking Dead. I'll start some time soon.

First film:

Beetlejuice, directed by Tim Burton

I'm not the biggest Burton fan, but maybe I'm just not seeing the right movies. I remember being frightened by what little I saw of this as a kid. We'll see how true that remains.

Start time: 12:15 -  I did watch a bit of the cartoon as a kid. Hated it. Let's hope this works out better. I like this music along with the overhead shot of town. It became more obviously a model as it went on, until the gag at the end with the spider. Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis as the happy couple. I'm sure this will last forever.

12:20 - What kind of person pitches a house to people when the owners don't want to move? Wow, that vacation went bad pretty quick. Always watch for dogs in the road, folks. And now we're in poorly-composited nightmare land. How long does it take them to realize they're dead? Not too long, apparently. They don't seem too bothered though.

12:28 - The kid's mom from Home Alone and the pedophile principal from Ferris Bueller's Day Off as the couple moving in to the newly empty house. Daughter played by Winona Ryder. Weird, this slick guy whose role I don't really understand is played by Jerry's landlord from Seinfeld. First real gross moment as Davis tries to haunt the new owners, but they can't see her. Some pretty funny sight gags. They can't be seen, but they can still manipulate the environment and be sensed.

12:35 - I'm eating right now so commentary might be sparse. So if they can't leave the house, what happens if the living make the house bigger? They're probably wondering the same thing. Hey, Winona can see them. This could be interesting. I enjoy the way Beetlejuice is trying to contact them.

12:46 - I've always enjoyed the idea that the afterlife has the same bureaucratic procedure and red tape as the DMV or something. Some really enjoyable set design in this otherworld-place.

12:54 - Robert Goulet. God rest his soul.

1:00 - Man, they're taking their time really getting Beetlejuice into the mix. And right on queue, they summon him halfway into the movie. Wow, this is a fun performance. I didn't know Michael Keaton had it in him. Well, I kinda did. Those are some big shrimp. This is a great possession scene. Aaaaand the shrimp pay off. But uh oh, it didn't have the proper effect. The family is excited by having ghosts in the house, not terrified. What a weird universe this movie takes place in.

1:15 - But now it's Beetlejuice's turn. A freaky looking, violent snake is a bit more effective. Zombie football team is kinda funny. And now Lydia is suicidal for some reason.

1:25 - Isn't it kinda cheating at charades to summon the actual objects you're referring to? Ah well.

1:29 - I don't get it. There can't be proof among the living of an afterlife, but these characters have all already seen it. What is the limit on exposure before it's actually a problem?

1:40 - Is it just me, or is it rude to try to stop Beetlejuice after agreeing to a deal that he holds up his end of? Eh. Pretty fun movie, even if the plot was kind of all over the place.

Second film:

Bubba Ho-tep, directed by Don Coscarelli

I love me some Bruce Campbell, and the concept of an old Elvis Presley and a black guy claiming to be JFK taking on a mummy sounds like it could be a hell of a lot of fun.

Start time: 1:55 - We start with an enjoyable defining of terms and old news story about mummies being discovered. It then cuts to the rest home Elvis is staying in in Texas.  Heh. If Campbell's opening narration is any indication, this is going to be a vulgar movie. Far from thinking of mummies, his biggest concerns are his sickly roommate and the growth on his penis.

2:04 -  We spend a few minutes with a woman before she's bitten by a scarab beetle. She kills it, but then a mummy appears before her. Elvis sees her disappear from the hallway, but doesn't much care.

2:12 - This film actually seems like it has something interesting to say about aging and death. His now dead roommate's daughter didn't care to come visit him, and no one cares to listen to his claims of being the real Elvis. Funny flashback scene showing him switching places with an impersonator. Even his entourage couldn't tell. Another flashback shows how he broke his hip and had to stop impersonating himself.

2:22 - Another scarab attacks Elvis. He kills it in a pretty over-the-top way and then wanders into the room of his friend JFK, who's passed out on the ground. It seems like the mummy attacked him, but John thinks it was Lyndon Johnson coming to finish him off.

2:35 - Elvis and John agree to track down whatever is causing trouble in the home. They find some hieroglyphic bathroom graffiti, and they're on to something. Meanwhile they're some crap going on that the staff seems pretty oblivious to.

2:42 - Our heroes are piecing together the mystery over coffee and candy bars. The mummy continues to wreak havoc. Finally it comes face to face with the King. Elvis gets a vision of the monster's past and then it walks right by him. Another resident dies, but at least the mummy didn't eat his soul and crap out the residue.

2:53 - Elvis tracks the mummy with his walker to a river, and finds a bus license plate, remembering such a vehicle going over the nearby bridge in his vision.

3:00 - The good guys learn more about the mummy's origin, and then make a plan to go after it. Elvis continues to wonder about what future he has left. He resolves to take care of the situation We're then treated to one of the best determined-team-walking-down-a-hall shots I've ever seen.

3:08 - And the showdown begins. Elvis loses sight of the monster and it sneaks up behind him. He notices in time and the scuffle really starts. Elvis puts down the walker and busts out some moves. The mummy wanders off and disappears again. It ambushes Jack, but Elvis comes to the rescue on a wheelchair and lights him up. It's too late for Jack, though. Elvis' incantation doesn't work, so it's time for plan B. It involves more fire. He's wounded but victorious.

3:22 - Weird movie. I enjoyed Campbell's performance, but the whole thing was kind of oddly understated and muted for a horror/comedy mash-up about an old Elvis Presley fighting an Egyptian mummy. It definitely felt like the small, independent production it was. Not bad, though.

Third film:

Little Shop of Horrors, directed by Frank Oz

I don't really know much about this one. It was directed by Yoda, it's a musical, and Rick Moranis and Steve Martin are in it. Here's hoping it's fun.

Start time: 3:40 -  The movie opens with some campy narration and a trio of women in matching outfits singing about not much in particular, introducing Rick Moranis as Seymour, an assistant in a plant shop. A radio broadcast sets it in the early 60s. One of Chuck's aunts from Pushing Daisies plays Audrey who also works at the shop.

3:50 - The second song, about living in a rough part of town, ends. After a day with no business, the owner of the shop wants to shut it down, but Rick shows him a new hybrid plant he's been working on. He goes into another song about how he got the plant during a recent unexpected eclipse, and it starts bringing in a ton of customers. I love this movie's tone. It's delightful.

3:57 - Another song as Seymour is left at the shop to try to fix the plant, which has gotten weak. He somehow decides it would be a good idea to give it some of his blood. Overnight it grows dramatically. He goes on a radio show to talk about it. Not only does it drink blood, it likes lady's bottoms. Hey, John Candy as the radio host.

4:05 - Wow, this movie's kinda dark. Audrey's singing a song about how she wishes she deserved Seymour and how her boyfriend abuses her. Wait a second, this is the second song than I've seen Family Guy reference before. I guess they like it.

4:10 - Transitional song and the plant is huge now. God, this couple is too adorable for words. I laughed out loud at the cut to Steve Martin on a motorcycle. Apparently he's a badass dentist. I'll accept it. Holy crap that inside-the-mouth shot was fantastic. He huffs nitrous oxide too. This film is delightful.

4:19 - The plant starts talking. And singing. And demanding fresh blood. This is about the point where I'd run away. Nice puppetry, though. Seymour agrees to kill Audrey's dentist boyfriend so the plant can have his blood. Win-win, right? What the hell, Bill Murray as a masochist who visits the dentist for fun? Awesome.

4:29 - Well that was pretty fantastic. But now Martin wants to take his frustrations out on Seymour's mouth. If this movie wasn't so funny it might be terrifying. Seymour doesn't have to shoot him, because he dies of an overdose on gas.

4:35 - Seymour chops him up and feeds him to the plant. I'd say the movie had taken a dark turn if it wasn't jumping between goofy and horrific every five minutes.

4:43 - Seymour makes his move on Audrey, but things aren't happy for long, as his boss confronts him about seeing him chop up the body. He helps feed him to the plant, and now he's really getting in deep. And now we have a spoken word song. Pretty cool stuff. I don't believe growing an unusual plant would get a man this famous though.

4:49 - Seymour's not really thinking too clearly here. If he really only cares about Audrey, he could just cut bait, let the plant starve, and put it behind him. But I guess he needs money to take her out of Skid Row. And the plant needs feedin', which means more murder. He offers to just get it some meat from the butcher's shop. I don't think that will be acceptable, though.

4:55 - The planet lures Audrey over and has her in its clutches. Seymour saves her, but Jim Belushi interrupts their singing. He has a business proposition, but Seymour refuses and goes to confront the monstrous plant. The plant sings about how great he is, and pulls the building down around him, burying Seymour.

5:05 - He's not dead though, and he electrocutes the creature from outer space (did I mention it's from outer space?) until it explodes. Things end happily for the protagonists, but not without a hint of trouble ahead. Ah, Christopher Guest played the first guy to notice the plant in the window. I should see some of his movies. That was a lot of fun - easily my favorite movie of the day. Just the right mix of goofy and mildly disturbing.

Fourth film:

Them!, directed by Gordon Douglas

It's a movie about people getting attacked by giant ants from 1954. This is going to be fun, right? It's probably going to be fun.

Start time: 5:20 - Interesting choice with a color title for a black and white movie. Let's see what a genuine attempt to be scary looks like 56 years later. Some police find a kid wandering around the desert by herself. She seems a little bothered by something. She manages to fall asleep before they come across an abandoned car and trailer. There was some sort of disturbance inside the trailer earlier. I wonder if it was somehow related to giant ants. They figure the girl came from this place, but still don't know who she is.

5:32 - They find an empty store that's also been ransacked. Just what the heck is going on here? I bet they're wondering. They find the body of the store's owner. "Dragged and thrown". Amazing how they can tell that. There was sugar at both scenes. I wonder what kind of culprit they must be looking for at this point. I mean, no way giant ants looking for sugar has crossed their minds, right? They hear a strange whistling noise for the second time. Left alone, the second cop only gets off a couple shots before he's killed off screen.

5:37 - The first cop speculates that an escaped lunatic could have done it, but the chief ain't buying it. No money taken, just sugar. The crack shot store owner's gun broken after he managed four shots. Just what in tarnation is going on here? An FBI agent is brought in to help.

5:42 - They fly in an expert to look at a footprint they found, and he brought his babe of a daughter for some reason. I bet she can scream pretty loud. The old guy uses formic acid (which the shop owner was loaded with) to restore the little girl's voice, and all she can do is scream about "them".

5:48 - The whistling starts again as they look for prints during a sand storm. A gigantic ant looms over the daughter. Yep, she can shriek pretty good. Pretty good practical effects for the 50s. They shoot of its antennae to hinder it and then fill it full of lead. The old doctor reveals his hypothesis, that area ants were mutated by the fallout from a nuclear weapons test in the area nine years earlier. I don't think that's how radiation works but whatever. They go looking for a nest.

5:54 - Hey there's some classic radio communication humor. The Daughter Pat spots the nest and takes some pictures. An ant poses for the camera around some human remains. The doctor reveals his plan to assault the nest with heat to keep the ants inside and then kill them with cyanide. They use bazookas to hit it with phosphorous for the heat. They then bravely and probably idiotically enter to make sure the ants are dead. Pat goes in too to do some science-type stuff.

6:04 - As they go through the tunnels, they realize not all the ants are dead as some burst through a wall. They hit them with bullets and fire, a deadly combination. This movie's actually pretty cool so far. A bit silly but not terribly dated considering. They find an egg chamber, and oddly, it seems the ants don't go through a larval phase before adulthood. Pat commands the men to burn everything, and burn everything they do. Unfortunately, the doctor doesn't think that was the only nest, and has some pretty doom and gloom ideas about what this new ant mutation could mean.

6:10 - The doctor shows a home movie illustrating his theories to some Very Important Men. He finishes by laying out his doomsday timeline of one year if the queens aren't found and destroyed.

6:16 - The good guys find an institutionalized man who claims to have seen some giant ants in Texas. *18 minute food break* Psh. Right after I call them good guys, they keep a sane man locked up to keep his story quiet. Eh, greater good I guess.

6:39 - Man, these ants are everywhere. As is the Wilhelm Scream. They manage to attack a boat at sea, for no real reason that I can surmise. I don't really understand why the original cop is still on the case. Special detail, I guess. Not exactly his jurisdiction.

6:47 - I don't really understand what's going on. They're investigating the disappearance of a couple kids after their father was killed by ants in LA. Kind of small potatoes right now, fellas. The trail manages to lead them to a possible location for some of the monsters. In fact, they may have stumbled upon the mother lode. Subplot justified!

6:56 - After keeping quiet to avoid a panic, the military breaks the silence to inform the citizens what's happening and cause a panic. The mission is to destroy the ants once and for all and save those two kids I guess. They're probably dead. The search begins anyway. They're a lot better equipped this time. Unfortunately, it's a potential hostage situation. Because there's really good reasons why an entire colony of giant ants wouldn't have eaten a couple little kids yet.

7:02 - The cop hears something, and is courageously/stupidly going through a connecting shaft in the tunnel system on his own. He finds the kids, but the whistling is back. There are ants, and he can't fry them without risking the children. The cavalry storms in to back him up as he saves them. He's crushed to death before help arrives, but they manage to fend off an attack. Man, they're really hitting that Wilhelm button hard. A cave-in traps the FBI agent in alone with the ants. He fends them off long enough for the troops to break through, and they find the queens. Picard would not have approved of this barbecue. And there's your abrupt old-movie ending. Really not bad. Decent old fashioned science fiction horror. I could squeeze in another movie before Boardwalk Empire if I really wanted to, but I think that's enough for now. I'll be back to talk about the first episode of that new zombie show.

Final feature:

The Walking Dead - "Days Gone By", directed by Frank Darabont

If there's one network I'd trust to faithfully and succcessfully adapt such a good and unflinching comic book besides HBO, it's AMC. Really looking forward to seeing what they did.

10:32 - That was a really effective opening segment. Tease a bit of zombie action, introduce the Rick/Shane relationship, show his accident, introduce him to the world of the dead, and then have him meet the first survivors. Just a pitch-perfect half hour.

10:44 - A bit more zombie apocalypse drama before a light moment right before the break. I'm impressed not only by the amount of gravitas they're giving to a story about dead people rising to eat flesh, but by the fact that it's working. AMC teased yet another show that looks potentially interesting - The Killing. Apparently it's based on a Danish miniseries.

11:00 - This is seriously good looking for a cable TV show. No way this was filmed on the same budget as Ruibcon. Must be some studio backing it. Or maybe not, what do I know. Darabont's gotta have some pull being at the helm. Some of the stuff he added for this episode is as effective as just about any moment from the comic itself.

11:12 - It looks like we've caught up with the events of the cold open. Finally the first scene with the full cast, minus Rick. I'm not sure how I feel about Sarah from Prison Break playing Lori. There's nothing wrong with her, just a lot of memories of a show that wasn't very good. There's a reason they used the shot of Rick riding a horse with Atlanta in ths distance in all the teasers - it's pretty outstanding.

11:25 - While trying to check the World Series score, FOX advertised The Chicago Code, a new cop show. Eh. Created by Shawn Ryan. Yeah, I'll probably watch it. They picked a great way to end the first episode, conveying the hopelessness of the situation while still hinting that maybe all isn't lost. Off to a great start. Checking out the trade paperback again, they only covered about the first two issues of the comic in that hour and a half. I'm sure they'll pick up the pace a bit going forward, but they're clearly aiming to keep this on air for a long time. At this rate, it will be seventeen more episodes before they're even caught up with where I am, less than halfway through the current existing run. Well, I hope you had as fun a Halloween as I did. Good night!

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