Pop Culture Monday: I Can’t Watch! …Yet, I must…

Okay, the shower scene was scary, but what really did me in were the animal heads on Norman's wall...

Okay, the shower scene was scary, but what really did me in were the animal heads on Norman’s wall…

I hate being scared.

But I looooove being scared.

I realize that makes no sense.  But let me take you back for a few moments, if I may, to my childhood, where my love of freaky movies began.

I grew up in the 1980s, the era of the slasher film, home video (“Would someone please fix the tracking?”), and the dawn of cable television.  I was exposed to far more frightening films and scenes in films than my parents had ever been, most of it while I was sitting on the living room carpet while they were in the kitchen smoking and playing cards with the neighbours.  And I loved it.  I was terrified afterwards, but I loved it.

Some stuff that scared me honestly probably never even came across my parents’ radar.  Disney’s “Pinocchio”?  Traumatized me.  Fecking traumatized me.  There are two scenes that give me a heart attack to this day — the scene with Stromboli threatening to burn Pinocchio alive, and the scene where Pinocchio’s red-headed delinquent buddy turns into a donkey on Fantasy Island.  Good God.  I have not watched that film in over 25 years, and fully intend to never show it to my own children.  And my fright at “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” is already documented on a previous post.  The only way my kids got to see that was because my parents bought the Blu-ray and watched it with them.

Me:  “Mom!  I asked you to babysit, not scar them for life!”

My Mom:  “Seriously?  What’s wrong with it?”

Me:  “Don’t you remember going to the theatre to watch it?  And me crying and wailing and begging to go home because I was scared?”

My Mom (sighing):  “…I raised a drama queen.”

Maybe.  But I like to think my quaking in terror at the movies I’m about to mention at least gets a nod or two out of someone else who watched them at an impressionable age, as well.  So I assembled my Top 5 Freaky Movies That Affected Me list below.  I watched them all before the age of 13, and I still feel their influence today.

5.  An American Werewolf in London

Even my mom, generally wholly in denial, remembers me watching this one — because she let it happen!  She sat in the kitchen at my grandmother’s house while I sat in the living room with my uncle (who was a teenager at the time) and a bunch of his friends and soaked it all in.  She’d pop in every once in a while, shake her head, and say, “Are you sure this is okay for her?”.  One of my uncle’s helpful buddies, a fellow called Lizard, would nod and reply, “Oh, yeah.  We cover her eyes during the scary parts.”  Yeah — that one time.  I saw everything else clear as day, including the violent, painful looking werewolf transformations that still make my skin crawl when I think about them.  And the ripping and the tearing and the screaming…  I don’t think I’d even hit the first grade yet.  I still take a pass on werewolf movies, if I can help it.

4.  Poltergiest

In my mom’s defense, she wasn’t around when I watched this one.  And the adults who were (a friend’s parents) probably didn’t know how scary it could be for a kid (never mind the fact that it was directed by the same guy who directed “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”).  I have an incredibly active imagination, and I really only remember impressions, emotions around this film, not actual images or plot concerns.  I remember being petrified of being sucked into the walls of my own home, lost in limbo somewhere, looking blonde and pretty (I was freckly and redheaded, but in my minds’ eye, I was Carol Anne), calling in vain for a short woman to help me.  Snow on a television gave me the heebie-jeebies after that.

3.  Raiders of the Lost Ark

Oh, I still watch this one.  Every chance I get.  And it does belong on my list!  Most certainly not a horror film, but those snakes at the dig site when Indy is buried alive — in the dark — genuinely frightened me.  And the monkey was so evil!  And creepy!  And evil!  I still shudder at that thing.  What doesn’t really hold up, though, was the most influential part of the gore-factor, which is the face-melting scene at the end.  I just shrug now, but you could’ve knocked me over with a feather when I first watched it with my dad on VHS back in the day.  This is still a go-to for me, unlike the previous two films, as is the lesser-but-still-not-bad sequel, “Indiana Jones And The Temple of Doom.”  Kali-maaaaaa…

2.  It

This Stephen King novel-turned-TV-movie cemented my dislike of clowns.  Sweet Jaysus.  Tim Curry is at his hideously sinister best as groteque clown Pennywise who eats kids in a small Maine town.  I was older when I watched this (thirteen, I think), but my mom had watched it first and really enjoyed it, so gave it the green light for my younger brother and I to watch during a visit to my aunt and uncle’s house one summer.  The book is worse, naturally — and I loved it when I read it several years later.  Just the rememberance of Curry whispering, “They all float…” makes me want to shriek and flap my hands around in panic.  It was my King gateway drug, and I devoured his back catalogue the moment I had the chance.   Delicious.

1.  A Nightmare on Elm Street

This film screwed me up big-time.  I watched it at a sleepover when I wasn’t quite 10 years old, and came home the next day exhausted because I had not been able to sleep afterwards.  My little brother slept on the floor of my room for days because I was too terrified to sleep by myself.  I slept with the radio on and the door open to help alleviate my fear, but all I could see was Heather Langenkamp watching Freddie Kruger pull her friend down the school hallway in a body bag.  And the jump ending just about made me pee my pants.  I have since seen all the sequels (and all the “Friday The 13ths” and “Halloweens”), and not one of them made me truly petrified for my own life like this movie did.  It stuck with me years.  Years.  Which means it was good.

And I could go on!  “Labyrinth” and “Return To Oz” had scary parts, as did “Superman” (I will never, ever forget Margot Kidder getting buried alive near the end of that film.  Not for as long as I live).  “Carrie”, which I saw at the tender age of twelve as a midnight movie while I was babysitting, had me hiding in the corner of the couch covered in an afghan.  Many films that scared the hell out of me are now films I love and hold dear.  I wouldn’t trade my movie-viewing past for anything, although I am playing it a little bit differently for my own children.  I sometimes wonder, though, if I’m not playing it a little too conservative with my elementary school-aged children’s film choices — but “The Avengers” isn’t that bad, is it?

Not when compared to “Pinocchio”.

 

 

 

 

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Because We Can: Superheros Who Need A Movie (Or A Reboot)

We all have one — a superhero we adore who we think Hollywood has given the short shrift.  Either their movies sucked ass, or they haven’t rated getting a movie at all.  Now, we’re not comic book types (sorry, fanboys), but we are aware of what’s up with pop culture in general.  Here’s Ellie’s list of superheros that either need a reboot kick in the pants, or even just a movie.  If you know of something already in development, let us know!

 

 

The Punisher.  Both Thomas Jane and Dolph Lundgren have played some version of the malevolent vigilante, and there was also some other guy whose name I don't remember.  None of the performances -- or scripts -- were any good.  This poor fellow needs his due.

The Punisher. Both Thomas Jane and Dolph Lundgren have played some version of the malevolent vigilante, and there was also some other guy whose name I don’t remember. None of the performances — or scripts — were any good. This poor fellow needs his due.

 

Never on the big screen.  Not a single female superhero who can carry her own film has been given the chance.  Wonder Woman is a weird superheroine, too; Hollywood just doesn't know what to do with her.  Get someone who understands her to get her a good treatment.

Never on the big screen. At least, not on her own. Wonder Woman is a weird superheroine, too, kind of like a female Thor, who aside from being in “The Avengers”, hasn’t fared as well at the box office as his fellow mightiest heros. She’s almost too powerful with a wacky backstory; Hollywood just doesn’t know what to do with her. Get someone who understands her to get her a good treatment.

 

Going after the evil that lurks in the heart of men is The Shadow's specialty.  His best known alias is Lamont Cranston, a pre-Batman wealthy playboy who disguises himself to fight crime.  His "superpower", so to speak, is the ability to cloud other people's mental faculties.  Low-tech, and would be a fantastic detective story.  At least, Ellie thinks so.

Going after the evil that lurks in the heart of men is The Shadow’s specialty. His best known alias is Lamont Cranston, a pre-Batman 1930s wealthy playboy who disguises himself to fight crime. His “superpower”, so to speak, is the ability to cloud other people’s mental faculties. Low-tech, and would be a fantastic detective story. Perhaps more so than a superhero story. And his film with Alec Baldwin was a horrible flop. Worth another look. At least, Ellie thinks so.

 

Ellie didn't actually mind the movie with Sean Connery, but some of the other casting sucked, and the script was weak.  At least, the ending of that one was left open to bring Alan Quartermaine back to life, perhaps even younger to facilitate a move to a different actor.  This varied cross-over has the ability to be so cool.  Find someone cool to breathe some fresh life into it.

Ellie didn’t actually mind the movie with Sean Connery, but some of the other casting sucked, and the script was weak. At least, the ending of that one was left open to bring Alan Quartermaine back to life, perhaps even younger to facilitate a move to a different actor. This varied cross-over has the ability to be so cool. Find someone cool to breathe some fresh life into it.

 

I don't know if Elektra has been relevant in cinema -- ever.  Barring the very blech film starring Jennifer Garner (I didn't like her in "Daredevil" either), Elektra has been at a standstill in film.  She has a great dynamic with Daredevil, and her ferocity and recklessness puts her at interesting odds with Daredevil, which would make for a better film than the one she got.  Again, the victim of a WTF script and limp acting.  Let her rage properly.

I don’t know if Elektra has been relevant in cinema — ever. Barring the very blech film starring Jennifer Garner (I didn’t like her in “Daredevil” either), Elektra has been at a standstill in film. She has a great dynamic with Daredevil, and her ferocity and recklessness puts her at interesting odds with him, which would make for a better film than the one she got. Again, the victim of a WTF script and limp acting. Let her rage properly.

 

Oh, Doctor Strange.  I don't know too much about him, except that he had a 1970s TV movie with a disco round, and shows up with The Avengers every once in a while.  His name was even dropped in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier".  He rules the mystical world, using dark forces to fight for good to balance the universe, no small feat.  Macabre, bizarre -- all of Ellie's favourites.  Give him a creepy, thrilling movie that is well-written and well-acted, and Ellie will be first in line at the theatre.

Oh, Doctor Strange. I don’t know too much about him, except that he had a 1970s TV movie with a disco round, and shows up with The Avengers every once in a while. His name was even dropped in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”. He is part of the mystical world, using dark forces to fight for good to balance the universe, no small feat. Macabre, bizarre — all of Ellie’s favourites. Give him a creepy, thrilling movie that is well-written, with good cinematography and good casting, and Ellie will be first in line at the theatre.

Pop Culture Monday: Can You Tell I’ve Been Crying?

“Clue”, a SMART comedy I actually enjoy. I also dig Python and Black Adder — any comedy that doesn’t appeal to the lowest common denominator. That excludes most of what’s out there, sadly…

…That, in short, summarizes why I hate dramatic movies.

I am one of the few women who will stand in the theatre lobby and get irritated because all that is playing is rom-coms and dramas.  My nightmare date consists of showing up to the cinema on a first outing with a guy who gasps and says, “Hey, they’ve got “Schmaltzy Coming Of Age Movie”!  Or how about “Toilet Humour Abounds”?  Or “Maid In Manhattan?”  (Sorry, J.Lo)  I would rather put a pen through my eye.  Give me “The Movie Where Stuff Blows Up”, or “Completely Detached Popcorn Movie With No Emotional Involvement” any day.

“Transformers?”  M’kay.  Michael Bay usually has good effects.  Horrible character development and plot holes aplenty, but who’s thinking about that when Decepticons are invading Chicago?  Pas moi.

“The Avengers”?  “Pacific Rim”?  “Olympus Has Fallen”?  “The Bourne Identity”?  How about “Star Wars” or even “The Evil Dead”?  Sign me up.  When I go to the movies, I want one thing — to be entertained.  I don’t go to be spiritually or emotionally moved, or even really to learn anything.  I learned my lesson with my theatre experiences as a small child, specifically “E.T — The Extra-Terrestrial”, and “Return Of The Jedi”.  I had two vastly different experiences.

In “E.T.”, I was only four years old, and someone insisted that everyone go to the local theatre.  So off we went.  I didn’t understand the nuances of the film.  I was bored.  All I knew was that E.T. wanted to go home, and the little girl had dressed him like a dolly.  But by the time Elliott and E.T. have a symbiosis so strong that E.T. is screaming and Elliott is crying, I was traumatized.  I remember walking up and down the aisle, looking for comfort from adults who were crying, too.  It was a wretched time.

A couple of years later, out comes “Return Of The Jedi”.  I was now six years old, and really, really wanted to go because my dad was so jazzed about it.  My younger brother would rather go swimming, so my mom takes him, and it’s just me and my dad at the theatre.  It.  Was.  Epic.  There was an obvious bad guy.  An obvious good guy.  Cool lasers.  Robots.  Action I understood (bad guys chases good guy, good guy gets away or wins).  And teddy bears!  I was hooked.

Don’t get me wrong.  I will watch the occasional drama or comedy.  I saw “Titanic”.  Cried.  “August Rush”.  Cried.  “i am sam”.  Cried.  I fell asleep during “Snow Falling On Cedars”.  I have since given up.  I also had the misfortune of being forced to see “The Breakup” (seriously?), “Observe And Report” (Seth Rogan should hang his head in shame), and “Bridesmaids”, which I found more embarrassingly self-absorbed and ridiculous than funny.  The dudes in “The Hangover” were just too stupid to take; they made me want to slap them, not root for them.  Even though I finally get it, I still won’t watch “2001 — A Space Odyssey”; too much of what Arnie Carvalho of NowPlayingPodcast.com calls “artistic douchebaggery”.  Still do “The Shining”, though.

This seems counterintuitive compared to what most women will tell you they want to watch for date night.  To be honest, it’s almost humiliating.  I’ve always known I’m not like the other girls, but going to the movies with my gal pals often has me shifting uncomfortably in my seat because I just don’t want to sniffle and cry in front of them, or I don’t want to be bored for two hours watching fools learn a basic life lesson.

So if you’re like me, take heart, dear friend!  There’s more than one of us out there,  so let’s create our Netflix queues with pride.  Not every woman needs tears and a happy romantic ending.  Sometimes the hero just finishing the film with all his limbs intact is all we need.

Pop Culture Monday: Spider-Man, Spider-Man, Doing Whatever A Spider Can

So this past weekend, Em and I got in line to see “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”.  We had originally been going to see “Moms Night Out”, but it wasn’t playing in our wee city, so Spidey was a last minute choice.  I hadn’t heard great things about it, but it’s a superhero movie where things were going to blow up, so it was my substitute suggestion to Em.

I did not see “The Amazing Spider-Man”, starring Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker/Web Head and Emma Stone as Gwen Stacey.  I’m not a big comic book gal, and trying to get a sitter for the kids was rough at the time, so I let it blow by.  Turns out it was a good thing I saved my money; although the film did well at the box office, it was universally panned as flat and brooding, trying to be too much like a like a heavy character study rather than a light, fun romp.

Not so much with its sequel, thankfully.

Now, I grew up with Sam Raimis’ take on Spider-Man, the ones with Toby McGuire as Peter and Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson, his love interest from the comics.  J. K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jamieson stole every scene he was in.  I really liked the first one.  It was funny and interesting, and I thought the Green Goblin was pretty cool.  The special effects seemed good, and oh, my God — it had James Franco as Harry Osborne.  The second film was, well, meh, and the last one just really sucked ass.  The character of Peter Parker became kind of a douche, Dunst looked bored, and it had a weak plot.  Yet another reason to pass on “The Amazing Spider-Man” when it rolled into town.

But I liked this second one.  Like I said, I can’t compare it to the first one, having never seen it, but as a stand-alone film, it works quite well.  Before I go any further — SPOILER ALERT!!

Really, the only thing you need to know going in is that Peter Parker promised Gwen’s dying father (played by Denis Leary), who had figured out his alter ego, that he would stay away from Gwen in order to keep her safe.  At the start of this second film, he has not been keeping his word.  Recap of the plot: Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), a bullied and loner employee of Oscorp (owned by Dane De Haan as Harry Osborne, not Leonardo Di Caprio, despite the strong resemblance), has an industrial accident that turns him in to Electro, a villain determined to take out Spidey because he feels betrayed by the web slinger from an earlier interaction.  Joining forces with Electro is Peter’s childhood friend, Harry, who is suffering from some complicated sounding genetic disease that causes skin lesions, turns him green, and will eventually kill him.  Harry sought out Spider-Man to ask if he would give some of his blood to the terminally ill man in an attempt to cure him, and Spider-Man, who has learned more about his origins over the course of the film, turns him down, afraid of what his augmented blood will do to his best buddy.  Harry’s now out for revenge against the superhero “fraud” and even against Oscorp, whose board has ousted him and turned him out on the street.  There’s some neat-o CGI and fights, some chuckles, and an emotional ending that left me a bit choked up as I reached for my watered down Coca-Cola.

And that’s just a brief overview.

There’s a lot going on in this movie.  The relationship between Gwen and Peter.  Electro’s story.  Harry’s story.  Peter’s search for the truth about his parents.  Whew.  But if you can wade through that, it’s not a bad way to spend a Friday night.  I really liked Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone — they just worked for me.  They are super cute together, and I buy Garfield as both Peter and Spider-Man.  Gwen is a bit too much of a convenient genius for my taste, but I like how Stone plays her.  De Haan is okay, I guess, giving us his best tight smiles and lets us see the anger that bubbles just below the surface in every scene he’s in.  Even Jamie Foxx, not my fave despite his Oscar, does alright as Electro, even though I like him better as Max.

So, all in all, not as good as the first Raimi Spider-Man, but better than the second.  If you’re looking for some escapism with a PG rating (although the violence made me wonder what the MPAA was smoking when they rated the thing), give it a shot.

Eight popcorn bags out of ten.

 

Hollywood, bugger off.

Angelina Jolie as "Maleficent".

Angelina Jolie as “Maleficent”.

Well, it’s started.

On May 30, 2014, Disney Pictures will release ”Maleficent” in Canadian theatres.  The preternaturally beautiful Angelina Jolie will play the title character, based on the Mistress of All Evil from the 1959 animated Disney film, “Sleeping Beauty”.  Apparently, according to IMDB, the roots of Maleficent’s hatred and viciousness will be explored and explained as she is brought to life in the new feature also starring Ellie Fanning.

What?!

It’s not like I’ve seen the film.  It’s not released yet.  I have no idea if Jolie is amazing, the plot riveting, the directing second to none.  In all honesty, I don’t really care.

Disney is screwing with my kidhood, and that irritates me.

I like what I saw on the VHS tape in 1987.  A cartoon Aurora with pointy elbows, a few stereotypically wacky fairies, some random singing, and a Big Bad who was just, well, bad.  She turns into a freakin’ dragon and tries to roast the prince, for Gods’ sake, and seems to relish every minute of it.  There’s no backstory.  No excuses.  Just menace.  I didn’t need reasons why, and I still don’t.

Trying to make Maleficent a sympathetic villain is a mistake, as far as I’m concerned.  In giving her too many layers, Disney is effectively neutering her malice; she becomes more like Old Yeller to be pitied in her lashing out instead of something to be feared in her relentless pursuit of vengeance.  I see where giving her actual character development contributes to her appeal with the adult audience who may be excited to get further insight into her dark little heart.  But the kids don’t care, do they?  I know I don’t care.  Can’t they just let Maleficent be bad just for the sake of being bad?  Does her nastiness really need to be explained?  Isn’t she far more frightening when you don’t know why she does what she does?  When her anger seems random and nebulous and you cannot anchor it to anything?

What do you think?  Is this just another money grab by Disney, recycling old characters with new motivations, just to keep butts in the seats and cash coming in?  Will it alienate child audiences (partially because it will not be like the animated film, but also because the live action may be too scary for them)?  Am I overreacting and just need to calm the hell down?   LOL

…Don’t think I’ll be in line for this one.  Which is a shame, because Maleficent is, hands down, my fave Disney bad-ass.