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

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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’

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Red Dawn
Year:1984
Director: John Milius
Writers: John Milius, Kevin Reynolds
Cast:
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.”
Or
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)

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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 Flixster.com, 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.

  • Now Flixster Certified!

  • BEETLEJUICE with GLENN SHADIX

  • LIONHEART with HARRISON PAGE

  • CLUE with director JONATHAN LYNN

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  • POPCORN with star DEREK RYDALL

  • CADDYSHACK with co-star CINDY MORGAN

  • THE WRAITH with co-star CHRIS NASH

  • THE LONELY LADY with co-star JARED MARTIN

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    THE DARK CRYSTAL with puppeteer DAVE BARCLAY

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    MISCHIEF with stars DOUG McKEON and CATHERINE MARY STEWART

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    CHRISTINE with ALEXANDRA PAUL

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    ROCKULA with writer/director LUCA BERCOVICI

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    JUST ONE OF THE GUYS with STU CHARNO

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    BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER with producer DENNIS MURPHY, fx artist HANK CARLSON

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    TREMORS with co-star CHARLOTTE STEWART

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    THREE O'CLOCK HIGH REUNION with co-stars CAITLIN O'HEANEY, SCOTT TILER and LIZA MORROW

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    VISION QUEST with author TERRY DAVIS

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    WESTWORD with co-star JARED MARTIN

  • SKI PATROL with star Roger Rose

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  • BEAT STREET with Ralph Rolle

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  • NIGHT OF THE COMET with Kelli Maroney

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  • Support Natsukashi: Visit 80s Tees

  • RAD with its star Bill Allen

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  • HOUSE with its writer Ethan Wiley

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  • THE TERROR WITHIN with its fx artist Bruce Barlow

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  • HARLEY DAVIDSON and the MARLBORO MAN with actor Jordan Lund

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  • TROLL with fx artist Jim Aupperle

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  • AMERICAN GRAFFITI with ‘Kip Pullman’

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  • THE BLACK HOLE

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  • RETURN FROM WITCH MOUNTAIN

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  • THE GREAT MUPPET CAPER

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  • BABY: SECRET of the LOST LEGEND

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  • SWAMP THING

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  • NIGHT OF THE DEMONS

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  • THE GIANT of MARATHON

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