Category Archives: Sunday NIght Movie

Sunday Night Movie: The Towering Inferno

Yeah, this has been an entry in the Sunday Night Movie feature before but it is one of my favorite disaster movies.

It is not a secret that I am a fan of the disaster movie genre that blossomed in the 1970s and in many ways The Towering Inferno is the pinnacle of that style of movie. It has a massive budget, being the first film that required two studios, Twentieth Century Fox and Warner Brothers, for its production The movie boasts an impressive slate of stars, another hallmark of the disaster movies, and this one included two of the biggest at the time Paul Newman and Steve McQueen along with a host of fine stars and actors in support. Special effects and spectacle are also presented in abundance throughout the feature. It is important to remember that was before the era of digital images and motion control photography, three years before the ground-shattering event that is Star Wars. Every flame in the frame is real, every full-body burn is a live stunt performer, and the tower itself is an impressive bit of model photography.

The plot of The Towering Inferno is quite simple and straightforward. It is the dedication night of the newest world’s tallest building. Situated in San Francisco the building dominates the skyline as it reaches for the stars. Due to cut corners one of the buildings contractors has substituted inferior wiring in place of those specified by the architect, leading to a short, numerous system failures, and of course a fire that quickly gets out of control. There is a massive party being held at the towers top and now more than 300 people are in danger of burning alive in the world tallest building.

What surprises me each time I re-watch this movie is how devoid of cynicism it is, particularly for a mid 70s film. There are two political characters, the mayor of San Francisco and a Senator. Both of these characters act in noble and heroic fashions, presenting none of self-centered cowardice we would expect in a current screenplay. They are not the exception, firemen and chiefs, security guards and corporate executives, architects and con-men all act as heroes, putting themselves in danger for the sake of their fellow human beings. The only exception to this is the contract who cut corners, Played by Richard Chamberlin this character displays absolutely no redeeming qualities. It is an utter mystery how his wife, daughter of the builder, ever fell in love with such a low character. He is nothing more than a walking cliché, one that would today pass as wisdom.

This film is long, two hours and forty-four minutes, and mind you this is before the end credits bloated. For The Towering Inferno end credits run just over 4 minutes. It took me two nights to watch the entire film and I don’t regret a single moment.

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Sunday Night Movie: The Remains of the Day

While the vast majority of the movies I watch on Sunday nights are genre films of one variety or another not everything I watch falls into those fields of Sf, Fantasy, or Horror. The Remains of the Day is one of my favorite films and it is a movie of nothing but quiet dialog. Based on the award winning novel of the same name by Kauzo Ishiguro the story centers on James Stevens the butler of Darlington Hall and it concerns Stevens relationships with his employer Lord Darlington, Steven’s father, and the Hall Housekeep Sara Kenton. This is a story about service, devotion, and repressed emotions.

Stevens is played to perfection by Anthony Hopkins, it is hard to imagine another actor who would be able to convey such volumes of information while his character says nothing about how he truly feels. Steven is a man so driven by his concept of duty he never questions to the actions of his employer, even as Lord Darlington toys dangerously with Fascism during the run up to World War II. Nor is Stevens able to able reveal his deep feeling and affections to Miss Kenton, played by Hopkin’s equal Emma Thompson. This is a love story without first names. There is no rom-com misunderstandings, but instead this is about people trapped by their nature and their culture.

In addition to the already fine actors mentioned the boasts an impressive casting list; Christopher Reeve as an American politician, James Fox as idealistically naive Lord Darlington, Hugh Grant as his godson who has a bit better vision just what is going on, and two future cast members of HBO’s smash hit Game of Thrones, including a much younger Lena Heady is a small part.

From the moment I watched this in the theater this has been a moving film for me, one where I have tremendous empathy for Mr. Stevens and is doomed inability to express himself.

You only live your life once, make sure it is your own.

 

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Sunday Night Movie Sadako vs. Kayako

While this is billed as my Sunday Night Movie, I started it Sunday evening but finished it Monday. After the energy expended at Condor 2017 I simply pooped out and couldn’t watch it all in one go, particularly since it is subtitled and required a greater mental focus.

I first learn of this film last year when a friend and I drove up to Los Angeles for an after evening at Universal Studios, taking in their Halloween Horror Night, and then scooting over to Hollywood for a late screening of 1979s Dawn of the Dead in 3D. (Verily that was cool.) While my companion took care of his pre-show bathroom break and concessions the trailer for this film played.

If you do not recognize the names these are the ghosts or spirits from The Ring franchise (Sadako) and The Grudge (Ju-On) (Kayako). So as you can see it is not just American that is interested in bad guys fights such as Freddy vs Jason.

Overall this was better than the aforementioned Freddy vs Jason. The cast is comprised of fairly likeable and relatable characters competently acted. The film’s action is contemporarily set and so they had to dance around a few issues since Sadako does her bad magic via a VHS tape. Also for the sake of compression, I assume, they reduced her kill curse from seven days to two.

(If you don’t recall The Ring or Ringu the Japanese original version, if you watch the tape then your phone rings and a voice tells you ‘seven days’ and when that time has passed you die. Ju-On was centered on a house where a spirit of vengeance visited violence and death on all who lived there, for this film that has been compressed to simply entering the haunted home.)

The production values are decent and there are plenty of both in your face jump scares and atmospheric scenes that rely on tension for their effect. I was particularly fascinated by an exorcism scene. It was quite interesting watching one that was non-western and not driven my a monotheistic religion.

Of course the main event for a film of this type is the throw down between the two powerful spirits. (Though at one point both are referred to as ‘ghouls’ and I wonder what the original language translated as.) On that score the big confrontation is rather spare and short but better that than overly drawn out and tiresome.

In terms of tone it borrows more from Ringu than Ju-On. It has a conventional western narrative structure rather than the sequence of incidents that Ju-On utilized. In the final resolution it leaned more in the direct of Ju-On.

I enjoyed my viewing but not enough to see a need to purchase a copy.

Sadako vs Kayako is currently streaming on Shudder.

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Sunday Night Movie: The Caine Mutiny

Last night’s movie served a dual purpose, it functioned both as entertainment and as research. Entertainment because The Caine Mutiny has always been one of my favorite films. I dare say that I watch my Blu-ray of it more often than I do ether Casablanca or The Maltese Falcon. Research because my current work in progress is on one level about a dysfunctional wardroom and how that undermines the ship’s commanding officer. Now the specifics are very different in my WIP than in the classic movie. My WIP is not about a duplicitous officer and hopefully my captain is more relatable and heroic than the poor broken Queeg.

The Caine Mutiny is one of those rare film that I find difficult to watch only a portion. Many movie I can start and stop, or back in the days of channel surfing, watch a brief bit in the middle before moving on, but that has never been the case with this movie. When I had a lasrdisc player it was one of my first purchases, and when I moved to DVDs I acquired a copy in that format as well. For several years I’ve had my Blu-ray version and the film has never looked better. (Though I have yet to see a properly projected version in an actual theater.)

Based on the fantastic novel, The Caine Mutiny is the story of the officers if the DMS Caine. (Destroyer Mine Sweeper) It is World War II and Willis Seward Keith an immature offspring of a rich family has become a newly commissioned ensign in the U.S. Navy. Assigned to the Caine, a duty station he views as a bitter disappointment, Willie discovers that the junkyard navy falls far below his expectations. Too young and too inexperienced to understand the nature of the Caine, Willie rejoices when the captain is replaced with hard-nosed, by-the-book, Captain Phillip Francis Queeg.

A change of command turns out to be the spark that lights a fire culminating in the ship nearly sinking and Willie along with another officer finding himself standing before a court-martial on charges of mutiny.

Truly one of the best films to come out of classic Hollywood, The Caine Mutiny not only is faithful for the original work, but where is seriously diverges from the text of the book serves the different medium without undercutting the themes and point of the source material.

If you have not seen this film, waste no time in finding a copy, it will be well worth your effort.

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Sunday Night Movie: The Shallows

I had an interest in seeing this film during its theatrical run but finding the time proved difficult and the film vanished before managed to get out to my local multiplex. The previews looked mildly interesting and a YouTube reviewer, MovieBob, gave it a decent review.

If you missed the trailed the set-up for The Shallows is fairly simple and direct. Nancy played by Blake Lively, is surfing off an isolated beach when a killer shark arrives, wounds her, and she ends up trapped on a spit of rock that is only above the ocean’s surface during low tide. Right there we have all the elements of dramatic story; a likeable, relatable protagonist; immanent, deadly threat, and a hard deadline preventing our hero from simply trying to wait out the danger.

There are the requisite emotional complications, Nancy is dealing with the loss of her mother making her estranged from her father and undercutting her sense that life has a purpose and value. A wounded seagull gives the character someone to speak to and a chance to display compassion that to heighten her likability.

Naturally with a set-up like this everyone come down the try and fail cycles of story telling. Blake has several plans to escape but they fail leaving her situation more dire with each failure.

Overall the movie was competently made and displays a few inventive techniques for handling the usually decidedly non-visual issue of telephone calls. On the whole I enjoyed watching it and on home video the film played out just fine, but this movie is not without flaws.

Shark Behavior: okay just as with Jaws, this one is a gimmie. Real sharks don’t do what sharks in movies do, but you gotta let them have it so they can have their movie.

Vision Underwater: With a device, facemask or such, to keep the eye clear of water you can not seen well under water. Certainly not enough to do the things she does. This one could have been fixed and it annoyed me.

In the ocean things do not stay put: This keep tossing me right out of the story. In the film there is a large whale carcass that draws the shark into the area. Okay that’s fine, but it stays in place throughout the entire movie. It is not beached, it is free floating. Sorry, it either goes out to sea on the currents or it washes up on the beach. It will not maintain station as a fixed point of reference.

Still, even with the flaws the movie worked on a home video level and if you like this sort of suspense this will likely work for you.

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Movie Review: Roger Corman’s Death Race 2050

So yesterday I took my traditional SuperBowl Sunday trip to Universal Studios and I had planned today’s blog post to be my opinions and impressions from that visit, particularly since this was my first chance to explore the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but my Sunday Night Movie upset those plans.

After popping myself a big bowl of popcorn I settled onto our loveseat and started Roger Corman’s remake of his classic trashy SF satire Death Race 2000. For those who may not know the recent film franchise Death Race is considerably different from the 1970’s film that spawned them. Corman decided it was time to return to the socially satirical SF of the original, including the concept that running down pedestrians as central to the race and its purpose.

Death Race 2050 is a blast. A sharp, graphic, and funny take on the original concept. The writers updated the ideas, while remaining true to the first film’s beating heart. Being a remake 2050 hits the same major beats as the original but with enough twists and inventions that they kept the story fresh even for those of us old enough to remember the first time through this race.

Let me spoil one gag for you as an example of the film’s sharp satire.

Two named female characters has a heart to heart discussion about their lives and the sorry state of the nation without mentioning the men in their lives. They hold this conversation in the checkpoint’s “Bechdel’s Bar.”

Now, this movie is not for everyone. There’s lots of nudity, gore, and violence, but it wouldn’t Death Race without these things.

If you like the originally waste no time in streaming this modern gem.

 

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Sunday Night Movie: Lights Out

It is no secret that I am a fan of horror films. One of the earliest memories I can access if of a full color bloody horror movie playing on the screen of a southern drive-in. I often tell people that as a child I did not read fiction and as such many of the beloved childhood classics were missed by me, but I recently realized that there was some fiction I read; ghost stories.

Lights Out is a ghost story and there is no doubt that ‘my’ monster is the ghost. I have tried to analyze just what it is about ghost that so fascinates me but that will require someone with a little emotional separation from the subject – me.

Ghost stories have several basic beats and structures that you generally find in common. Lights Out hits all these beats in a competent and clear fashion and yet someone remains a movie that failed to have me fully engaged.

The story of Lights Out is direct and straight-forward. Rebecca is the estranged daughter of Sophie, living on her own over a tattoo parlor unable to reconcile with her mother over her father that, without any word then or since, abandoned the family a decade or more earlier. Now Sophie has remarried and Rebecca has a small half-brother to whom she is devoted.  It is into the volatile mix of family drama that the ghost, with lethal intentions, appears. The gimmick to this movie is that ghost only appears in darkness and so flashing lights creates the image or a spectral figure that appears and vanishes with each flicker.

The plot moves forward to a clean logical progression. The characters’ motivation is understandable and believable. The suspense and shock are delivered in an adequate manner and yet someone the film never caught my undivided attention. IT may be that the mystery of the ghost was not quite deep enough to provide a sense of revelation when it was explained. It may be that the exposition was repeated and it wasn’t a terrible difficult concept to understand. For whatever reason the film was fun enough to watch but not compelling. At times during the climax I found myself wondering just what was the lumen cut-off that dispelled the ghost.

It is not a bad movie and certainly it had a few curves in the plot. A few things that would have been quite cliché they avoided and the resolution, though flawed because it was not driven by the protagonist’s action, brought everything to a satisfactory conclusion.

Overall – worth the time on Disc or streaming, a C grade passing but not memorable.

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Revisiting: Aliens

Last night I pulled down by big blu-ray boxed set for the Alien films and selected 1986’s Aliens as my Sunday Night Movie. At the start the disc presented me with a choice; 1986 theatrical release or the 1992 Special Edition? I selected the Special Editions and settled in with my bowl of popcorn.

The film is as fast and as exciting as ever and I have seen the special edition before but on this viewing my connection to the film seemed somewhat different. I approved of the many scenes restored to the film that deepen and expand the Ellen Ripley. A character that lacked even a given name in the original classic film. However when it comes to the scenes depicting life in the doomed colony Hadley’s Hope before the parasite destroys them I found I had come to a different opinion that the one I had held for a number of years.

Films, just as with prose stories, have character points of view and Aliens is a story told from Ripley’s POV. If you look at the first film, Alien, it is told with several points of view a technique used by the screenwriters Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusette to disguise which of the characters was the protagonist and thus they kept the audience off-balance as to who would liver and die. (A technique George R.R. Martin has been quoted as copying for his epic A Song of Fire and Ice.)

Aliens wisely doesn’t attempt to recreate this ambiguity. We have ridden with Ripley through the first horror and our identification with her is strong. Looking at it from that perspective the extended scenes that take place on Hadley’s Hope violate this film’s POV. Ripley is not there and there is no one to relay those scenes to her. It is information she will never know and as such it is information we should not know.

There are plenty of moments in the special edition that still work with Ripley’s POV, scenes she either directly participates in or where her relationship with characters in the scenes would allow her to reasonably be aware of the events and those I would advocate retaining, but I think all the Hadley’s Hope scenes should be excised.

Of course it’s not my film and so that’s not going to happen, but it is a peak into my thoughts on story structure.

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Sunday Night Movie: Gun Crazy (1950)

As many people already know I am a fan of film noir though there are many, many movies of that genre I’ve yet to see and Gun Crazy was one of those. Based on a short story Gun Crazy is about a pair of lovers, pistol trick shot artist, who enter into a life of 1-gun crazy001crime and hold-ups. It is surprisingly accurate to the short story, with only mild modifications. Made in 1950 when the production code remained in effect this film still manages to be a fairly straightforward piece that attempts to capture the addictive thrill of crime and anti-social behavior.

In the best tradition of the genre the plot is driven by a femme fatale, in this case the character if Anne Laurie Starr, a woman who has a vast appetite for an expensive life, action, and lethal undercurrent of anger in her personality. Doomed from the moment he met her is Barton tare. Presented in the film as the only man who has outshot Annie the film’s title actually references Barton and not Annie. It is his story that we really follow and his obsession with guns never has a clear genesis but if the defining characteristic of his personality — that and his inability to use a gun to kill. This deadly mix, a woman with an explosive anger and sharpshooter unable to fire on a living thing, place themselves in the worst possible life choices, becoming stick-up artists. They are likable but flawed characters, and the film is deeply engaging. Though produced on a modest budget the director Joseph H. Lewis manages a number of craftily staged pieces including a bank robbery that is shot in one continuous take and solely from a vantage point inside the get away car.

Of course a film made under the production code cannot end well for criminals. The Code required that all characters who engaged in crime met a just end by the film conclusion. Sometime that created forced endings, but with Gun Crazy the ending has the right tone and does not come off as moralizing. Rather like Lord and Lady Macbeth Bart and Annie are characters doomed by their natures and their choices.

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Sunday Night Movie: Predestination

predestination_ver2The reason I became a reader of science-fiction and eventually a writer of that genre is due to the work of Robert A. Heinlein. A grand master of the form his works influenced the arts and sciences for decades. Despite being a best-selling and ground breaker author very few of his works have been adapted successfully into films. The Puppet Masters became a mediocre film fatally damaged by a third act that abandoned the source material for cheaply ripping off other films. Starship Troopers practically ignored the source material and where it didn’t it engaged in a malicious misreading in favor of the director’s favorite obsessions. Given this background I approached Predestination with a healthy sense of apprehension.

Adapted for the screen and directed by the Spierig brothers a pair of Australian filmmakers Predestination overcomes Heinlein’s troubled history with adaptions to become not only the first film to faithful to the source material but a movie that also works well in its own right.

It’s difficult to discuss the plot of Predestination without an abundance of spoilers. This is a time travel film and one needs to go into the viewing with an open mind towards the crazy world of time paradoxes.

Ethan Hawke, returning to work with the Spierig brother again following their partnerships with the novel vampire film Daybreakers, is an agent with basically a time police agency. Hawke’s character is leaping through time in pursuit to another time traveller who is leaving a trail of nasty explosions in his wake. This entire cop and bomber plot is the invention of the filmmakers, yet they fold it into the narrative from the short story in a seamless and tonal consistent manner.

Sarah Snook plays in effect several parts, principally she plays a man who writes confession stories and drinks away his life nursing a grudge over the person who ruined her life. Hawke and Snook’s writer character form an unusual partnership with staggering implications.

The original story ‘All you Zombies…” was written many decades ago and of course its portrayal of the future has become horribly dated. Following in the footsteps of Zack Snyder and his adaptation of the graphic novel ‘Watchmen’ the Spierig brothers do not attempt to ‘update’ the setting or characters, but rather the entire story takes place in an alternate time-line where history, particularly space-travel, followed a different course. This works very well for me, but I’m not sure how many casual audience members would follow this construction.

A low budget film, Predestination, never got a full theatrical release; this is a shame. I think the brothers have shone again that they are able to realize amazing visions with limited resources. Especially in dealing with a film that jumps over 40 years of period, from 1945 through 1985, they pull it all off with style and realism. This is a film that is going to become part of my collection. I urge you all to view it at least one.

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