Nostalgia with flair (and flares)

For the non-geek filmgoer, the term “lens flare” will mean absolutely nothing. But they will know it when they see it.

It’s a photographic technique that causes light to flatten and streak out into a horizon-like pattern that fills the screen. Director (and producer of “Super 8”) Steven Spielberg used them religiously in his earlier films of the ’70s and ’80s, as seen in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “E.T.,” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” among others.

“Super 8’s” director, J.J. Abrams, relied on them in his “Star Trek” reboot, but it wasn’t until this latest film that I realized how nostalgic that little cinematic trick made me. Continue reading

Donnie Not-So-Darko


Director Duncan Jones deserves a lot of accolades for his attempt to resurrect old-school sci-fi.

In 2009’s “Moon,” Jones took a minimalist approach to the genre, with Sam Rockwell as a lunar miner facing a tough final mission before returning to family on Earth.

He was given a substantially bigger budget with “Source Code,” but still keeps the story scaled down, focusing on a specific eight-minute chunk of time which our hero must repeatedly relive in order to prevent a disaster. While it’s tempting to slap a “Bomb-Strapped-Groundhog’s Day” label on this thriller (which is not entirely unfair, mind you), Jones and writer Ben Ripley have coiled things tightly enough in “Code’s” runtime that it establishes its own identity before its final-act fizzle. Continue reading

‘I Queue’: Gurn Blanston revisits ‘Red Dawn’


Red Dawn
Director: John Milius
Writers: John Milius, Kevin Reynolds
Patrick Swayze- Jed
Charlie Sheen- Matt
C. Thomas Howell- Robert
Lea Thompson- Erica
Jennifer Grey- Toni
Tag Line: The invading armies planned for everything – except for eight kids called “The Wolverines.”
The Brat Pack goes to war. (OK, I made that one up)

I have always loved war movies. I can say that without remorse because I have now advanced to an age where self evaluation and moralistic self flagellation hold no sway over me. I lead a completely un-self-examined life, and I sleep much better. From “The Sands of Iwo Jima” to “The Green Berets”, “The Battle of the Bulge” all the way through to the 70’s blockbuster “A Bridge Too Far” I was always riveted to the screen, ready for every pointless charge into overwhelming enemy fire and every slow, drawn-out death scene. I ate it up, and then went out and shot at my friends with my plastic machine gun while they shot back with their toy cowboy rifle, and then we argued over who shot who first.
The thing about ‘Red Dawn’ is that when I first saw the movie in 1984, it kind of bought war to my doorstep. I am old enough to remember the Cold War, but young enough not to have felt very affected by it. I was too young to really understand Vietnam, at least at that time. The movies I watched were just entertainment, not reflections of real loss and sacrifice. ‘Red Dawn’ however was not distant; it took place in my front yard.
Not that this film was some great think piece on the vagrancies of armed conflict and its effect on the occupied peoples of a war-torn land, it wasn’t. It was poorly written and even more poorly acted; full of trite one liners and pseudo-patriotism, but it was entertaining. And when you see troops parachuting into the school yard of what could be your own alma-mater, and then you watch as the front of the school where kids have gathered to witness the spectacle gets strafed with machine gun fire leaving one child dead in the window, you have to step back and blink, “That kid looked like my friend Billy!” I was used to seeing troops parachuting into blown-out European hamlets or remote Middle Eastern towns, but not dropping down by the Piggly-Wiggly!
After the initial invasion by a Russo/Nicaraguan alliance, a group of teenagers, led by Patrick Swayze as the former all-star quarterback and Charlie Sheen’s older brother Jed, flee town in an exciting chase scene to hide up in the hills until the whole thing blows over. But it doesn’t just blow over, it turns into an occupation. And the kids, now styling themselves after their high school football team’s mascot “The Wolverines,” are forced into the role of insurgents. They tool about the countryside attacking convoys and stray troops, causing mayhem in the name of American freedom wherever possible. In one scene, they attack a group of Russian officers who have paused by the roadside to take pictures of themselves in front of a landmark, (flashes of Nazis posing in front of the Eifel Tower or the Pyramids), and as the officers flee the murderous group of teens they beg for their lives. The kids have to harden up and execute the last remaining Russkie so that he can’t radio in a warning. War is Hell.
Back in town, a concentration camp is up and running at the old stadium and executions abound. Harry Dean Stanton, as Swayze and Sheen’s father, implores them through the barbed wire fencing to “Avenge me boys!” The town Mayor, played smarmily by Lane Smith, is cooperating with the invaders in an effort to do “what’s best for my constituents”. He gets his son, one of the Wolverines, to wear a tracer so that the Nicaraguan counterinsurgents can track the group down. When the rest of the group find out about it from a captured enemy soldier they are forced to execute one of their own in what is probably the most powerful scene in the film. No one is able to shoot Daryl, the mayor’s kid and former class president played by Darren Dalton, until C. Thomas Howell’s character Robert, a former nerd who goes around the psycho bend after learning his entire family was executed, steps up and machine guns him down with a straight face.
At one point, an American fighter jet crashes nearby and Powers Booth, as salty Texan fighter jock Lt. Col. Andy Tanner, joins the group and helps to guide them along. He forms a quasi-pedophilic relationship with Lea Thompsons character Erica, which is a bit awkward, before being killed off in great B-movie tradition while saving the kids from a Russian tank attack.
Eventually the Nicaraguan counterinsurgency force catches up with the Violent Dumplin’ Gang and most die in a hail of bullets shot from a Russian Attack Helicopter. Howell’s character Robert has the best death scene, going out in a blaze of duel machine-wielding glory, America…F*ck Yeah! In my opinion, his is the most interesting character in the whole film, except for maybe the part of the counterinsurgency leader played by Judd Omen. His take on a reluctant military policeman forced to do things that he finds distasteful in the name of securing the territory for his forces is spot on.
Charlie Sheen is kind of a non-entity in the film, as are Jennifer Grey and Lea Thompson. They are always there but never make that big an impact. The wrap up at the end of the film showing the post war memorial to the kids and narrated by Lea Thompson, one of only two of The Wolverines to survive, feels kind of tacked on. On the whole, though, this film really made an impression on me. I have gone back and watched it again several times over the years. Once I watched it just to see the scene where Powers Booth’s character admonishes C. Thomas Howell’s character about how all the hate he carries inside him will eat him up, “it keeps me warm” Howell responds, classic!
If you haven’t seen it yet, do, it’s worth the rent and the two hours out of your life. They have recently remade it with a new round of fresh faces and so it will be worth seeing the original first to compare. I understand that since we are friends with Russia now they were going to make China the bad guys, but then we became friends with them and so now they are turning to North Korea. If Kim Jong-il shows up for dinner with Obama then the producers are in trouble, I guess they could use Gaddafi if they hurry.

Just say ‘no’ (unless it’s on cable)

Like those little bottles of 5-hour energy boosts found at the convenience store, the drug NZT promises not only the caffeinated rush, but the temporary mental clarity to solve life’s more complex puzzles like the stock market or the popularity of Ke$ha.

It is the (fictional) drug of choice for Eddie (played by Bradley Cooper), a slovenly writer spiraling into a cocoon of self-loathing. When he stumbles into his former brother-in-law, he is introduced to this brain-broadening pill, which tickles his lobes in ways he never thought possible.

Instantly, he completes his long-gestating novel, decoded more secrets than Dan Brown, and decides to party like a rock star on Wall Street. He’s also popping the drug like Skittles and is given access to only a limited supply (hence the ironic title). The film sets up such a dizzying premise (both narratively and visually), that it’s not only Eddie who suffers the drug’s side effects, but the film itself.

It’s the whole “what would you do if you won the lottery” scenario, amplified by the fact that it’s internal knowledge and not just material wealth that is unlocked — a thought that holds much more promise. Add to all this that his Stephen Hawking mind is in a Bradley Cooper body, and the possibilities seem, well…

Director Neil Burger teases us early with heady camerawork, depicting this lucid world in which Eddie’s mind now rests, sweeping Google Earth and Street views that whoosh the audience through his accelerated thoughts. And had he stayed with Eddie’s wrestling with such newfound powers, this would have been a slick slice of B-grade sci-fi. But Burger tosses in random Russian mobsters, a barely there murder investigation, and shadowy assassins that cloud up this tale of mental clarity.

Robert DeNiro fits into things as well as a smug power broker, but as with most his work as of late, is in a role well beneath his talents. His connection is just one of many the film tries to thread in order to heighten a sense of paranoia throughout. The resulting car chases and street fights seem aimed at appealing to the mouth-breathers in the audience on which this drug would most likely have little effect.

The result is Burger dumbing down a tale of heightened intelligence, and the tempoary buzz felt within the first few scenes of the film quickly wears off, leaving us with side effects of mediocrity.

Awards fodder: A somewhat electric ‘Company’

You have to pull yourself back when watching ‘The Company Men.’ Because of its timely topic, it’s too easy to fault it for what it’s not than to appreciate it for what it is.

Since most of us are still feeling the sting — in one way or another — of the current recession, we want “The Company Men” to encapsulate all the fears and frustrations of all whom it has affected. This would result in some stock market “Crash,” which would have been narratively disastrous. Continue reading

Awards fodder: Gotta hand it to them

Why do we try to take a breath when we are drowning?

It is a primordial instinct, that odds-be-damned push to survive, that kicks in from our since-evolved brain, regardless of consequence.

And in the midst of starvation, dehydration, delirium and perhaps a host of other mental and physical impediments, adventure athlete Aron Ralston sallied forth, in a story that captured attention worldwide and made us pose to ourselves the question: “What would I do?” Continue reading

…and we’re back (and some updates!)

For all three who noticed we were gone for a little bit, thank you.

To ensure a more regular posting schedule, I would like to pose a question. As some may know, I also run a site Use Soap, that I use as a repository for my weekly review column at a local newspaper. I would like to propose that I run my reviews from that site on here, along with the regular features in Natsukashi. I still will post the podcast, as well as “Messing with Memories” and other various and sundry nostalgic movie morsels.

Please drop me a line and let me know what you think, I welcome any and all suggestions.

Also, you will notice a certain little logo at the top right of this blog. That piece of artwork is from none other than, one of the largest (and coolest) movie sites on the internet.

Our little blog has been invited to become part of the Flixster fam! Go us!

We are certainly excited about this move and hope that our incredibly inflated egos do not become even more drunk with power and end up snorting blow off the sweaty ass cracks of Malaysian ladyboys…again.

Sorry, where was I?

So we look forward to getting back into things, keeping everyone updated on upcoming remakes, hobnobbing with those in the industry who helped create the movie memories of our youth, and looking at films currently in release.

Thanks for sticking with us and, as always, your suggestions help keep us going, so please let us know what you think.

‘Cocoon’ with screenwriter Tom Benedek

Film: Cocoon (1985)
Rated: PG
Written by:
Tom Benedek (screenplay)
David Saperstein (story)
Directed by:
Ron Howard
Don Ameche – Art
Wilford Brimley – Ben
Hume Cronyn – Joe
Jack Gilford – Bernie
Steve Gutenberg – Jack
Maureen Stapleton – Mary
Jessica Tandy – Alma
Brian Dennehy – Walter
Tahnee Welch -Kitty

By E Dagger from CruJonesSociety

Pre-screening memories: Cocoon is one of those weird movies that you suspect couldn’t get made today. It’s a science fiction movie featuring a group of senior citizens as its protagonists that deals with facing your own mortality vis-à-vis a spaceship that promises eternal life and health in exchange for never seeing your family or your home planet ever again. And it’s a comedy! Sounds like the total package of hilarity and a license to print money at the box office, am I right?

The truth is that this movie is indeed quite funny, and while most of the sexual innuendo eluded me as a child when I watched it the first time, there’s no denying the gravitational pull of the wily charms of Steve Guttenberg that made him an 80s icon. Since I wasn’t but 7 years old when I saw this movie the first time (my parents had taped it off Showtime), he was the character I could latch onto. Everyone else was too old, too stoic, or too much of a freaky, glowing apparition that made me uncomfortable. It was his warm smile and laidback attitude that grounded me in an otherwise strange movie that saw a woman take her skin off to become a floating, yellow ball of light, a bunch of senior citizens swim in a pool full of giant alien rocks, and a spaceship take a kid’s grandparents away forever. I had issues with this movie as a wee Dagger.

Post-screening memories: From 2002 to 2006 I consumed most of my movies the same way: Hungover watching TBS (or whatever channel) on a Sunday. Usually nothing came of this, but an innocent conversation between me and my writing partner (Lee S. Hart of CJS started as a simple question – Would you get on the spaceship at the end forsaking life on earth for eternal health? – blossomed into a deep philosophical meditation about our views on life, religion, and eternity. Usually we were just waiting out last night’s Jagerbombs giggling at the hilariously racist antics of Long Duk Dong from Sixteen Candles.

But this time Cocoon spun us into territory we hadn’t anticipated as the movie represents (perhaps unintentionally so) a referendum on Judeo-Christian ideology and submits for discussion the question of eternity. The aliens are basically God, but not in any traditional theological form. So the question of whether or not to get on the ship presents additional problems in that by saying yes you’re basically shunning your Christian god and rolling the dice with these aliens. Even if you’re an atheist, your definition of forever has irrevocably changed because the aliens have proven life outside the confines of Earth.

We rolled around these topics and a ton more. When we finally founded our own website in 2008, it wasn’t until more than a year later that we revisited this topic and put it to our readers. Unfortunately no one responded, and we suspected it was because the depth with which you’d have to go to explain your answer either way delved a little more deeply than most people are comfortable with. Turns out, most people just didn’t really understand what we were asking.

This turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it allowed Hart and myself to re-visit this movie and have this discussion one more time, which I encourage you to check to understand the depths to which I’ve thought about Cocoon before talking to our guest. I don’t think he knew what he was walking into when he agreed to do the podcast with us.

Cocoon works on several levels, and for that, it’s even better than I remember. It’s funny, it’s tender, it’s thought-provoking in unexpected ways, and it’s wholly unique. Rediscovering a movie in that way is a lot and realizing it’s way more than the weirdo alien movie you remember from your youth is a lot like finding a small piece of the eternal happiness the characters strive for when they get on the ship.

Download Natsukashi’s ‘Cocoon’ podcast

or splash down to our on-screen player right here:

Our featured guest: Tom Benedek

Benedek has written and rewritten screenplays for Robert Zemeckis, Lawrence Kasdan, Lili Fini Zanuck & Richard Zanuck, David Brown, Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese, Sydney Pollack, Richard Rush, Harold Ramis, Lauren Schuler Donner & Richard Donner, Ray Stark, Brian Grazer, Working Title, Jersey Film, Chris Blackwell and many others. He wrote the screenplays for Cocoon, Free Willy and other films. He is a member of Writers Branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  He also teaches screenwriting at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor where he is a James Gindin Visiting Artist.

Benedek is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst where he received a Bachelors Degree with Individual Concentration in Film. He studied film at L’Institut de Formation Cinematographique in Paris and is a graduate of the Director’s Program at the American Film Institute.

A photographer and sculptor, Benedek has exhibited at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica and elsewhere. Take a look at his work at

‘Deliverance’ with Christopher Dickey

Deliverance (R)
Year: 1972
James Dickey
John Boorman
Burt Reynolds as Lewis
John Voight as Ed
Ned Beatty as Bobby
Ronny Cox as Drew


By: Gurn Blanston

Memories: There are a few things that pop into most people’s heads when you mention the movie Deliverance: Dueling Banjos, inbred hillbillies, squealing like a pig, pretty mouths, but after not seeing it for many years we may be in danger of forgetting what a powerful movie this was, and still is.

I’m not sure when I first Deliverance, it couldn’t have been at its release because I was still too young, but when I finally did have the opportunity to view it, on HBO I guess, because it was an uncut version, I remember being riveted by the whitewater scenes and the brutal portrayal of clashing cultures set in the Georgia backcountry.

Now let’s get some things straight. I am a hillbilly. Well, I am the descendent of hillbillies anyway. On a farm in North Carolina ,I have a relative we refer to as Aunt Mamie who once let me help milk a cow, and my father still crumbles his cornbread into a glass of milk and eats it with a spoon. When I was in junior high, I played the five-string bluegrass banjo, which I thought at the time made me cooler. It didn’t. With all this to consider I was pre-disposed to be forgiving of the backwoods denizens, after watching the movie, not so much.

In the movie, four buddies, John as Ed, Ronny Cox as Drew, Ned Beatty as Bobby and a rugged, outdoorsy Burt Reynolds as Lewis, their erstwhile leader, decide that instead of a golf outing they will take a canoe trip down the fictitious Cahulawassee River in rural Georgia, wanting to see the unspoiled land before a dam is erected and the entire area flooded. The group encounters the locals and takes a rather condescending viewpoint about them. For their part, the hillbillies view the group as a bunch of stuck-up city boys.

As they travel down the river they get separated, Ed and Bobby in one canoe, Drew and Lewis in the other. Ed and Bobby run afoul of two of the good old boys roaming the back country and end up being beaten, tied up, and in Bobby case made to “squeal like a pig” before being stuffed like a turkey by an obviously sexually confused brain-dead hick. Lewis ends up killing the offending Redneck with a bow and arrow, and then the boys take off down the rapids trying to make good their escape, pursued by the kin folk of the skewered sodomite they buried back in the mountains.

After Drew is either killed or commits suicide, I was never sure which, the three remaining friends manage to escape, but not before running into the local sheriff, played by the author James Dickey, who warns them to “Don’t ever do nothin’ like this again…Don’t come back up here”. Good advice.

Growing up I’m sure that most of us have made the “squeal like a pig” or the “you got a pretty mouth” reference in jest. Or maybe that was just me and I have some unresolved gender identification issues, either way, if you go back and watch this film I think you will be struck by the realistic brutality of that and other scenes that can sometimes make the flick hard to watch.

This was an important film of the time, it was nominated for three Academy Awards:Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Film Editing, (it didn’t win) and was seen as a dark representation of mans dangerous struggle with adversity.

The film has stuck with me, certain scenes more than others, but all in all this is still one of my favorite all time films.

Download Natsukashi’s ‘Deliverance’ podcast right here

or float on down to the on-site player

Our featured guest: Christopher Dickey

Award-winning author Christopher Dickey in the son of Deliverance writer James Dickey, documenting his time spent of set in the best-selling memoir Summer of Deliverance: A Memoir of Father and Son (Simon & Schuster, 1998). His most recent book Securing the City was published in February 2009, is the Paris Bureau Chief and Middle East Regional Editor for Newsweek Magazine. Previously he worked for The Washington Post as Cairo Bureau Chief and Central America Bureau Chief. Chris’s Shadowland column, about counter-terrorism, espionage and the Middle East, appears weekly on Newsweek Online.

Chris served as a technical advisor on the film, which he says is just a fancy word for “warm body,” but got to see his father’s words come to life directly in front of him. He also recounts the tumultuous legacy the film’s impact had on his father and his family.Chris’s books include With the Contras: A Reporter in the Wilds of Nicaragua (Simon & Schuster, 1986); Expats: Travels from Tripoli to Tehran (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1990) and Innocent Blood: A Novel (Simon & Schuster, 1997). His most recent novel, The Sleeper, was published by Simon & Schuster in September 2004. The New York Times called it “a first-rate thriller.”
He has also written for Foreign Affairs, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Wired, Rolling Stone, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Book Review, and The New Republic, among other publications. He is a frequent commentator on CNN, MSNBC and National Public Radio, as well as other television and radio networks.
Chris is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, where he was formerly an Edward R. Murrow Press Fellow; of the Overseas Press Club of America; and of the Anglo-American Press Association of Paris. He is also a visiting professor at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom.

Messing with Memories: ‘Taxi Driver’

Film: Taxi Driver
Original release date: 1976
Scheduled remake release date: Not Happening!
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd

Wow, that was quick! Just a few days ago, every film site on the net was buzzing about a Trading Places-like bet between director Lars von Trier and Martin Scorsese, in which the latter would resculpt his 1976 masterpiece with a handful of hurdles thrown in his path, a la Danish director Jorgen Leth with his 1967 surrealistic film The Perfect Human for von Trier’s The Five Obstructions.

In that film, Leth had to remake his film, but with certain criteria dictated by von Trier (set in Cuba, must be animated, etc.). When he and Scorsese met recently, speculation swirled that the two agreed to give the same treatment to the iconic Travis Bickle.

But in an article by Geoffrey Macnab of Screen, one of von Trier’s business partners, Peter Aalbaek Jesen, shot holes in the rumors as “rubbish.”

So, thankfully, the original Travis Bickle will live to pick up another fare.

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