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PCR #488 (Vol. 10, No. 31). This edition is for the week of July 27--August 2, 2009.
Mike's RantMike's Bust
Hello gang! Sorry for the tardiness this week. I ended up working some overtime and had a prior committment Saturday evening. Shall we begin?

"Funny People"  by Mike Smith
Another Year in the Trenches  by ED Tucker
Samurai Epic with Ozu Flavor  by Jason Fetters
At Least He Didn't Go Blind! .... Movie Notes .... About Time .... Passing On .... .... .... .... .... My Favorite Films, Part 2...  by Mike Smith
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Sometimes the smallest thing will catch your eye and make you laugh. Take in point the case of New York Yankee pitcher Chien-Ming Wang (pronounced Wong). The other day he underwent season ending surgery, which was reported in USA Today. Unfortunately whoever was in charge of punctuation marks mixed up his commas and apostrophies. The headline reads:

Yanks Wang,
has surgery;
season over


While attending this year's Comic-Con (an event I think the boss should seriously try to set up a table at some time), Commissioner James Gordon let slip that the sequel to "The Dark Knight" begins shooting next year hoping for a possible 2011 release date. Gordon was in his disguise as alter ego Gary Oldman.

Citing the desire to attach itself to a holiday weekend, Universal Pictures has postponed the release of "The Wolfman" to February 12, 2010. The film, starring Benecio del Toro, had already been moved from summer to late November of this year. Of course, nothing more I'd like to see on Valentine's day then a werewolf!

Speaking of Universal, here is a recent note they sent me regarding their upcoming film, "The Fourth Kind:"

Cast: Milla Jovovich, Will Patton, Elias Koteas

Directed by: Olatunde Osunsanmi

Story by: Olatunde Osunsanmi & Terry Lee Robbins

Screenplay by: Olatunde Osunsanmi

Produced by: Paul Brooks, Joe Carnahan, Terry Lee Robbins

Executive Producers: Scott Niemeyer, Norm Waitt, Ioana Miller

Co-Executive Producers: David Pupkewitz, Jon Bjarni Gudmundsson, Vinca Liane Jarrett

1n 1972, a scale of measurement was established for alien encounters. When a UFO is sighted, it is called an encounter of the first kind. When evidence is collected, it is known as an encounter of the second kind. When contact is made with extraterrestrials, it is the third kind. The next level, abduction, is the fourth kind. This encounter has been the most difficult to document...until now.

Structured unlike any film before it, The Fourth Kind is a provocative thriller set in modern-day Nome, Alaska, where -- mysteriously since the 1960s -- a disproportionate number of the population has been reported missing every year. Despite multiple FBI investigations of the region, the truth has never been discovered.

Here in this remote region, psychologist Dr. Abigail Tyler (Milla Jovovich) began videotaping sessions with traumatized patients and unwittingly discovered some of the most disturbing evidence of alien abduction ever documented.

Using never-before-seen archival footage that is integrated into the film, The Fourth Kind exposes the terrified revelations of multiple witnesses. Their accounts of being visited by alien figures all share disturbingly identical details, the validity of which is investigated throughout the film.

And one more item from the house that JAWS built:

CIRQUE DU FREAK: THE VAMPIRE’S ASSISTANT will be released by Universal Pictures on Friday, October 23, 2009.

At least the home of classic horror is trying it's best to keep the genre' going.

What with President Obama taking time out from saving the world by having a beer to soothe the feelings of his Harvard buddy (and I loved the fact that he invited Joe Biden, who if you check out the many YouTube videos available appears to have a little trouble with alcohol, to join them) maybe he'll do a real service to racial injustice. Both Congress and the Senate have approved a resolution urging a presidential pardon for Jack Johnson, one time boxing champion who was inprisoned in 1913 because he dated a white woman.

Les Lye, Canadian voice over actor who earned fame on the television show "You Can't Do That On Television," has died at the age of 85. No cause of death was given. A veteran of such shows as "The Care Bears" and "Teddy Ruxpin," Lye was featured in many of the skits that filled the series' 11 years, often ending up covered in the very popular "slime."

Gidget, the popular Taco Bell dog, passed away last week at the age of 15 (that's 73 to you and me). She was wrapped in a soft taco, covered with cheese and buried in a plain foil wrapping.


Eddie and the Cruisers / John Carpenter's The Thing
Starring: Michael Pare' / Kurt Russell
Directed by: Martin Davidson / John Carpenter


Joppatowne Theatre, Joppatowne, Maryland
FAVORITE SCENE: The END...Eddie Lives!
FAVORITE LINE: "Tell Tony Eddie and the Cruisers are here!"



One of those great stories about a little movie that made good, "Eddie and the Cruisers" was a film that came and went from theatres before you could blink. I remember seeing it opening night with 10 other people in the theatre (I ended up managing the same theatre a year later and I still remember how 12 people looked spread out in a theatre that seated 604.) I enjoyed the film and the music so much that I went back the next Monday night to see it again (Monday was $2.00 night). It wasn't playing anymore.

Jump ahead to the summer of 1984. School is out and "Eddie and the Cruisers" is making it's debut on cable. Suddenly, the film is the hottest title of the summer. Record stores are sold out of the soundtrack and the song "On the Darkside" is a top 10 hit. Sometimes good things do happen to good movies.

The story of Eddie Wilson, his music and his legend, "Eddie and the Cruisers" was based on the novel by P.F. Kluge, which told the story of a young musician whose talent was years ahead of the times. One morning Eddie's car is found deserted on a bridge but Eddie is nowhere to be found. Over the years he is presumed dead, but when his music is re-discovered by a new generation a hunt is on to find the tapes of his last recording session. Will they be found? Hmmmmmm

The best way to ensure a good musical film is go have good music. Case in point, Tom Hanks' "That Thing You Do." Not only is it a good film, the music, including the title song, is well written and catchy. Which is a good thing when the title song, or snippets of it, are played constantly throughout the film. If you can listen to the same song 7-8 times in a two hour period and not want to blow your brains out it's time to give credit to the songwriters. "Eddie" is no different. Director Davidson chose the hard rocking John Cafferty and his Beaver Brown Band to supply the tunes for the film and the results are magic. Though "On the Darkside" is the most known song, other tunes like "Tender Years," "Down on My Knees" and "Wild Summer Nights" are songs that, if you didn't know better, were hits in the 60s. Cafferty's sound is very similar to his New Jersey native Bruce Springsteen, with a little more grit then the boss. Songs are expressions of emotions and Cafferty nails each one perfectly. The cast is also superb, consisting of such young actors as Pare', Ellen Barkin, Tom Berenger and Joe Pantoliano. The film is a well done reminder of what a lower budget film can be if all the ingredients work. Sadly that is not the case of the sequel, which came around 6 years later. "Eddie and the Cruisers 2: Eddie Lives" told the story of a construction worker in Canada who manages to hide his identity behind a little mustache. In fact, at the end of the film, when he reveals he IS Eddie Wilson, the audience is stunned because his mustache is SO convincing. Best to be left on the discount shelf!


FAVORITE SCENE: Norris' head spouts crab legs and crawls away.
FAVORITE LINE: You gotta be fucking kidding!"

Whenever I get the chance I love to turn this part of the Rant over to others who share a passion for films. Here again is frequent contributor Greg Van Cott:

By Greg Van Cott

In the 1950’s, the world had found itself enshrouded by the subconscious fears of the Cold War, the Red Scare, and that xenophobic fear of the “other side.” Leave it to Hollywood to culminate all these fears into the themes and motifs for the 1951 Howard Hawks-Christian Nyby production of The Thing from Another World (also known as just The Thing)—one of the most infamous science-fiction classics of the 1950’s Renaissance alongside The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Quatermass Experiment, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and even Plan 9 From Outer Space; all grounded in the terror of the unknown. The interesting irony to most of these films is that they, unlike the cinema’s Second Sci-Fi Renaissance which generally consisted of films that confronted the unknown while in space (i.e. Star Trek, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris, Alien, and even Star Wars can be counted in this), instead feature the unknown element in our own backyard. This second Sci-Fi Renaissance also had its share of remakes or reconfigurations of the 50’s stories for next generation filmmakers’ interpretations. After the favorable financial response to the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the successful return of the character Quatermass in 1979, it seemed only logical that a remake of The Thing would not be far behind (remakes and unofficial sequels to The Day the Earth Stood Still and Plan 9 From Outer Space have only surfaced just recently).

Unlike most remakes which are motivated by Hollywood’s insistence to copy winning formulas to guarantee revenue, the intellectual purpose for another interpretation of The Thing was admirably motivated by creative possibilities. The original novella that inspired Hawks’ 1951 film was John W. Campbell’s 1938 story, Who Goes There?, about an alien that could physically imitate any lifeform or infect said lifeform, which by extension gave the original lifeform the ability to imitate. This alien, only referred to as a “thing” by the humans it attacks, had no discernable original form at this point in its lifespan since its general makeup seemed to comprise of various other forms of life it had contacted over thousands of years. Such a premise obviously could only work with a great deal of special effects, which in 1951 was an impossible task, so the premise was reconfigured to fit a Frankenstein’s Creature format whose new means of attack was to feed off the blood of lifeforms to feed its plant-like makeup. For the 1982 screenplay by Bill Lancaster (interestingly enough, the son of the famous Burt Lancaster), its story retained much of Campbell’s original graphic ideas, which were by 1980’s standards, quite easier to achieve with all the advances in makeup and special effects (realized by the mega-talents of wunderkind Rob Bottin, only in his early 20’s at the time). Another element of the original novella that Lancaster preserved was an all-male ensemble stationed at the Antarctic outpost. In Charles Lederer’s 1951 screenplay, a few women worked among the men in an Arctic outpost; even one having a romance with one of the station’s captains (as of course performed by the two leads played by Margaret Sheridan and Kenneth Tobey). This does not necessarily mean that none of the original film’s ideas did not inspire any new ones to go into the 1982 film. The Red Scare theme has been cleverly retooled into a threat of disease, which hauntingly paralleled the fear of AIDS at the time, and the plant-like quality for the Thing to deliberately separate itself from its own limbs in order to survive was retooled to fit Campbell’s description that the creature could divide itself into individual, self-sustaining parts if necessary.

Making his big break from independent horror films Halloween and The Fog and low-budget action/adventures like Assault on Precinct 13 and Escape from New York, director John Carpenter was honored to be given a chance to helm Universal’s new take on Campbell’s story. Heightening the glory of such an honor was Carpenter’s undying love for the original Howard Hawks film (a rare situation for most filmmakers who handle a remake), which made a brief cameo appearance (its title sequence) in his most famous 1978 film, Halloween. The most amazing similarity in both films is the approach to their openings. Both films feature the “auteur’s” name before the actual title, which is then obscured by a rip in the background plate. The hole gets larger and eventually reveals several holes that spell out the title “The Thing.” This might be one of the few times that the original and its remake share an almost exact approach to its title sequence. The film would mark the fourth time Carpenter, as a director, would work with cinematographer Dean Cundey to provide a cold, wintry tone to the lighting and the second time he would work with stuntman, Dick Warlock, who became Kurt Russell’s personal stunt double for 25 years. Kurt Russell had the distinctive pleasure to work with such a great collection of actors. A few were already known to audiences and some would become recognizable supporting actors later on including A. Wilford Brimley of The China Syndrome and The Electric Horseman, Keith David of Platoon and a later Carpenter film They Live, and Richard Dysart of Being There and Pale Rider. One of the most surprising additions to the crew was composer Ennio Morricone who at the time had become legendary for his scores to director Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns like A Fistful of Dollars and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly as well as his “Giallo” horrors in his native country like the 1972 George Lazenby vehicle, Who Saw Her Die?. But Morricone’s score in The Thing is particularly interesting because it does not sound like any of his previous stylish scores. Instead, we get a very subtle, droning score that closely resembles many of John Carpenter’s own musical scores for Halloween and Escape from New York. Nevertheless, it is one of Morricone’s most fascinating synthesized creations.

Like the 1979 science-fiction, Alien, the characters of this film can not leave their predicament by simply going outside. Even though Antarctica is not as dangerous as outer space, it is hardly livable and requires almost as much padding to function in its environment as a space suit would. Alien and The Thing do have similarities in that the creature has a huge physical advantage over the humans and the only weapon that can be used to fend it off are flame throwers. Fortunately, most things in the universe react adversely to fire and intense heat, so the humans can overcome it IF they are careful. Early on in the film, we are introduced to the idea that a team of Norwegians have destroyed themselves fighting this Thing, and if you look carefully, there are a number of visual references to the ’51 film that almost suggest that (if it weren’t for the American signs and Arctic references) the team shown in the original did not survive after all. The Norwegian video documentation that Kurt Russell and Richard Dysart’s characters find lifts footage used from the 1951 film’s discovery of the “flying saucer,” although Russell’s own team discover the spaceship in a more detailed sense, thanks to Albert Whitlock’s amazing overlay mattes placed on top of the set pieces as well as animated light changes. The ice block the creature was found in looks very similar in shape to the one in the original even though there is nothing to suggest that the Thing in this version came to Earth as the size of a man. When the Thing first arrives at the Antarctic outpost, it comes in the form of an Alaskan malamute. The first human ‘absorption’ is wonderfully ambiguous in that you see the dog approach the silhouette of a man sitting down somewhere. The dog enters the room and the silhouette turns to notice the dog. Upon a couple of viewings, it becomes obvious which man lives in that room. The dog has to be applauded for his rather stoic performance, since it is really the only element that gives us an idea of how the Thing “thinks” when it does not have to necessarily disguise its own behavior, and its almost deliberate sense of timing. The dog sits silently and stares at other people for long periods of time, and when approaching the silhouette—almost appears to be pausing at other doors to listen for any close bystanders who might interrupt its usual processes.

The Thing(s) for the rest of the film appear in the forms of humans, aside from Rob Bottin’s organic messes they mutilate themselves into as a means of escape, and all of this is accomplished through the excellent performances by the actors who have to act a little odder than usual to signify a subconscious clue as to who is not what they seem. For example, and some spoilers are contained here (so you’ve been warned), Charles Hallahan once commented that his favorite acting choice as a Thing was his character claiming he did not want to be in charge of the team, so in his mind he knew something was subconsciously wrong with him. The most interesting thing to note is that the Thing does such a good job imitating his body that that Thing took on the original man’s symptoms of heart disease. David Clennon’s performance is particularly interesting in that his character maintains an odd, drug-induced behavior throughout most of the film, but it his character’s inability to react in a conventional fashion to certain situations that makes him suspicious (certainly since the said first absorption). A. Wilford Brimley’s interpretation is probably the most mysterious, and the only indication of any odd behavior (his mental breakdown does not seem to totally classify as Thing-like behavior since his destruction of important equipment does not support Thing’s ulterior motives—I say this because the Thing’s logic to most of its objectives stems from a need to avoid any threats and find any means of escape) is Brimley’s brilliant idea of mispronouncing words from time to time. It does seem to catch the attention of Kurt Russell’s character, MacReady, from the aforementioned time to time.

One of the most essential things to discuss about both Thing stories involves the format of both parties who fight the creature. In the original 1951 film, the team is mostly compromised of Military personnel. The men and the few women involved all learn to stick together through a practice called Unit Cohesion in the Armed Forces. The only character with his own personal motive is the scientist who is an allegory for the fears of the Atomic Age and the growing concern that science could overshadow basic humanity. The romance that the two main characters share gives the audience a foundation for why the characters must fight a kind of “good fight” to preserve everything that is dear to them. In the 1982 film, the characters are all civilians, scientists and expeditionists alike. They do not possess the training for any type of cohesion or integrity amongst themselves, so paranoia quickly sets in for who could be the Thing among them. The so-called “good fight” still exists, but the men find themselves analyzing each other in very tense moments, which lead to excellent pathos in the story. MacReady quickly assumes command of the team and implements his own ways to find out the truth, which unlike the Military men in the original, borders between somewhat practical and over the top. For some reason, the audiences buy it due to Kurt Russell’s no-nonsense performance as R.J. MacReady. Some of the best scenes involving this lack of cohesion required every actor to appear in the same room, which quickly becomes claustrophobic, and proceed to interrupt each other in almost improvisational terms. The blood test is far most the most startling of these because MacReady now runs the scene, and his extreme nature dictates whether the rest of the men can be untied or not depending on the result of the test. The editing in this scene by Todd Ramsay is quite effective in that it obviously lets the actors dictate the cuts depending on their actions and reactions. By the time the big surprise shows up, the tension built by the actors is so thick that it is almost a relief that the shock comes in at what almost feels “earlier” than expected. I say this because MacReady believes the last man for the test is the Thing, but instead the second-to-last candidate proves otherwise. The only type of cohesion we finally see between the members (there was some cohesion before the Thing’s presence on the station, but nothing really significant) is once the four last confirmed humans begin their last battle against the creature.

The Thing is ultimately the kind of film that is hard to critique without giving it a truly extensive essay, but to do so seems to cheapen the surprises and twists that the film has come to be known by. Both versions seem to have a strong underlying theme that on, one hand suggests that we all must “watch the skies” in order to protect ourselves, but on the other hand suggests that in the original such an animal can be defeated… and yet the 1982 version does not give us full confirmation in the Things’ destruction. The end of the film reveals to us the destruction of the Blairmonster (the name seems to coincidentally reference another famous monster played by an actress with the last name Blair, humorously enough), but MacReady soon realizes he is not the sole survivor of the incident. One of the most intriguing questions always asked is whether either of the two last guys in Carpenter’s film are Things. I have always found the possible answer in an interesting bit of science shown earlier in the film: one of the men, who at this point is probably a Thing, is seen smoking marijuana. Later in the film, we realize that the Thing feels pain whenever it comes into contact with an inorganic or unnatural combination of elements that can kill its own cells. There could be some truth in the last two guys being able to drink a bottle of alcohol whereas a Thing can not. The drug marijuana, however, is more organic and a Thing might not see this as a threat to its health. Ultimately, the author of this critique admits that is a rather thin theory, but the great ambiguous nature of both stories is what keeps us so interested because of its fun guessing games. If we were not so fascinated with the unknown, we wouldn’t have a reason to feel the fear when asking, “who goes there?” or “why don’t we just wait here a little while?... see what happens?...”

Next week I discover that Sylvester Stallone is a pretty shrewd guy when I look at Norman Jewisons' "F*I*S*T."

Well, that's all for now. Have a great week. Monday is a "District 9/Inglorious Basterds" double feature day for me so I'll be buying the extra large popcorn! See ya!

"Mike's Rant" is ©2009 by Michael A. Smith.  Webpage design and all graphics herein are creations of Nolan B. Canova. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2009 by Nolan B. Canova.