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My Favorite Movies – Hot Rod (2007)

14 Oct

By Tanner Smith

I did not catch “Hot Fuzz” or Superbad in theaters in 2007, but I did see “Hot Rod” TWICE in a theater and it made me laugh out REALLY loud–so at least I was exposed to some good cinematic hilarity that year.

“Hot Rod” came out at just the right time for 15-year-old me. A few months prior, I had watched my first “SNL” episode (the one with Shia LaBeouf, the weekend “Disturbia” opened) and that was where I discovered comedians like Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Fred Armissen, and of course Andy Samberg–and I also discovered upon subsequent episodes more of what Samberg and his buddies Jorma Taccone and Akiva Shaffer, collectively called The Lonely Island, were about.

Lazy Sunday. D*ck in a Box. Roy Rules! And then I caught a trailer for something called “Hot Rod,” which starred Samberg as a would-be stuntman who crashes HARD and gets back up for me…and I just knew I HAD to see this movie!

It didn’t disappoint. I wasn’t exaggerating when I said I “lol’d,” because a lot of the nuttiness I was seeing on the big screen was HILARIOUS to 15-year-old Tanner!

Nowadays, “Hot Rod” is still so damn funny, but there’s one scene in it that still makes 29-year-old Tanner laugh out really loud upon each viewing. It’s the “Footloose” homage set on a mountain that results in…well, if you haven’t seen it, I won’t spoil it for you.

Another scene that still makes me LOL is the riot scene, featuring the song “You’re the Voice,” by John Farnham.

How’s the rest of the film? Well, while a lot of the hilarity has worn off on me with time, the charm sure hasn’t. “Hot Rod” is surprisingly sincere and isn’t mocking the characters so often, because it likes these central characters.

Speaking of whom, the central characters of Rod (Samberg) and his crew (Jorma Taccona, Bill Hader, and Danny McBride) are all funny and (more importantly) likable. I wish Isla Fisher as the love interest had more to do than just play the typically bland love interest, because if you watch her in other movies like “Wedding Crashers” and “Definitely, Maybe,” she’s freaking hilarious–here, she’s just a pretty face. But Will Arnett as Rod’s rival for her affections is amazing here.

Samberg was already becoming one of my favorite funnymen, thanks to the SNL Digital Shorts, but upon seeing this movie initially, he cemented his status (along with Jack Black) as one of my favorite funny people in America. (The Tenderloins, aka the Impractical Jokers, now share that high ranking for me as well.)

Since this film’s release, Samberg and his fellow Lonely Island cohorts have released other gems like Jizz In My Pants and I’m On a Boat, among other classics (btw, I own all of their albums), Samberg landed a main role on the show Brooklyn Nine-Nine, he killed as a host on the Indie Spirit Awards in 2013 (I’ll never forget his monologue, which sticks it to the Hollywood system), and the Lonely Island guys are all still working together, even as producers on recent movies such as Brigsby Bear, Palm Springs, and I Used to Go Here. (When I see their logo “Lonely Island Classics” pop up in the same font & background as “Sony Pictures Classics,” I smile from ear to ear.)

I almost forgot to mention “Hot Rod” was directed by Akiva Shaffer, and he, Samberg, and Taccone had all collaborated on the screenplay after it was initially written by Pam Brady as a Will Ferrell vehicle. Shaffer and Taccone also co-directed (and co-starred in, with Samberg) the equally funny “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” nine years after “Hot Rod.” And it’s a shame that neither of these two movies were box-office hits, but it’s a blessing they were both able to find more life on home media.

My Favorite Movies – Super Dark Times (2017)

14 Oct

By Tanner Smith


I first saw this film at a festival in Little Rock, Arkansas in May 2017. I didn’t know much about it, but I had free time and a free screening pass–so I went into the screening a little cold. I’m glad I did, because “Super Dark Times” is one of those chilling films that kept me on-edge throughout and still creeps me out upon repeated viewings.

It was also great that director Kevin Phillips was there to partake in a Q&A and discuss his vision of the film. (Afterwards, I got to shake hands with him in the theater lobby. Nice guy.) Even better is that the Indie Spirits nominated him for the Someone To Watch Award for the 2018 Film Independent Spirit Awards. I’ve watched this film many times over the past few years since its streaming release; I’ll gladly see what film this director will come up with next.

“Super Dark Times” is set in the mid-1990s, as evidenced by televised Clinton speeches, a mention of renting “True Lies” on videotape, and one gang of passive-aggressive jerkass teens and another group of ’90s teens hanging out together outside instead of staying inside and playing on their mobile devices. The latter group of teens are our main focuses (bullied by the former, who mostly smoke weed and are less ambitious than the others)–there’s Zach (Owen Campbell), the shy, awkward type; Josh (Charlie Tahan), Zach’s angry best friend; Charlie (Sawyer Barth), the younger kid who wants to fit in with the older boys; and most detestable, Daryl (Max Talisman), the loud, obnoxious friend that nobody likes because he never shuts up. The early scenes of the film are a highlight, as Zach and Josh spend their time chatting about the girls they like, riding their bikes through the neighborhood, and hanging out with Daryl and Charlie, even buying strange snacks at the gas station just to see how they taste. (I have to wonder what the “dried squid” they eat truly tastes like.)

These boys are basically Stan, Kyle, Kenny, and Cartman from “South Park”…except (and here’s where spoilers begin) Kenny isn’t the one who dies here; Cartman is.

Yep–Daryl dies tragically and horribly nearly a half-hour into the film, as the boys were playing with a katana sword belonging to Josh’s older brother (who is now in the Marines) and Daryl’s big mouth and aggressive behavior leads to an intense argument which results in Daryl’s accidental (and gruesome) death.

The scene is terrifying and brilliantly acted by the young principals. (Everyone’s panicked screaming is both convincing and haunting, but Charlie’s repeated exclamation of “WHAT DID YOU DO!!!” will always stay with me.) The world each of these boys live in has just been altered into something, well, “super dark,” and now they have to deal with it. Too scared to go to the police about the situation, they decide to bury Daryl’s body in the woods and leave it alone. (Side-note: Charlie, if we’re to see him as the film’s “Kenny,” actually stays out of things and avoids Josh and Zach so he doesn’t have to worry about anything–that’s a little funny to me.)

What follows that very night is one of the best scenes of the film, as Zach comes home to find his crush Allison (Elizabeth Cappuccino) waiting for him after his loving single mother (Amy Hargreaves) invited her in. This couldn’t come at a worse time for him as he’s clearly going through PTSD and just isn’t in the mood to take Allison’s advances as she seduces him in his own bedroom. Poor kid.

Btw, there is a film theory floating around online that Allison, who comes off as kind and sweet, knows about the death and cover-up and is also responsible for everything else that happens later in the film, like a manipulative puppet-master. Interesting theory, especially if she knows that both Zach and his best friend (Josh) have crushes on her and that helps elevate the tension later, but…I don’t buy it. Obvious joke is she’s not THAT kinda high-school-mean-girl.

Josh stays home from school the next day, gets into trouble when he goes back to school later, and doesn’t stay in contact with Zach, who takes it upon himself to make sure nothing about them seems suspicious as Daryl’s disappearance becomes news (though, very few classmates care about him being gone). Zach doesn’t have to worry about Charlie, who breaks himself off from Zach (“If anyone asks, we’re not friends”)–but Josh? Maybe a little bit.

Zach is having a tough time dealing with this himself, suffering from surreal and horrifying nightmares about the incident. These sequences are very “Donnie Darko” in execution, meaning very strange and memorable. (No wonder the trailer described the film as a mix of “Donnie Darko” and “Mean Creek.”) One is a result of taking Nyquil before bed; the other…well…I’ll just say it’s embarrassing to have it happen in class.

But back to Josh. Something inside of him snaps. It may have happened the day of the incident, but it was building up before then, as evidenced by his apparent anger towards the bullies in an earlier scene–it seems clear (to me, anyway) that whether Daryl’s death was an accident or not, Josh is now letting that anger take him over, causing him to go on an unassuming killing spree. And because Zach and Josh aren’t as close as they were (and because Zach is our key focus throughout the film), the mystery of Josh grows more disconcerting and dangerous, leading Zach (and us) to fear for other people’s lives.

The climax of “Super Dark Times” is deeply disturbing and chilling, as Zach races against time to get to Josh’s new victims before it’s too late, and former best friends Zach and Josh must confront each other. The film ends shortly after that, leaving Zach’s fate ambiguous–Allison bears the scars of the event, Josh gets arrested, and maybe even Charlie, who wanted to keep out of things the whole time, will be investigated, but what about Zach? I don’t know…but it’s interesting to think about.

And thus ends a deeply disturbing and “super dark” thriller/horror film that still, after many viewings, gets under my skin for all the right reasons. It’s not a dumb teen slasher film nor your typical psychological thriller–it works on many more different levels than that. On one level, it’s about how a romantic triangle can damage a friendship, especially when, on another level, the interests of one of the friends differ from the other’s (AND HOW!)–and on another level, it’s about how one behaves when things are at their bleakest.

One final thing I want to mention here is the performance of Charlie Tahan as Josh. He’s nothing short of brilliant, with a performance that has many levels all its own. Every time I watch this film, I always wonder what he might be thinking…

All My Favorite Movies (So Far)

13 Oct

By Tanner Smith

In the past few years, I’ve tried getting across what are many of my favorite movies–such as lists that keep changing (because that’s what lists about personal matters tend to do) and in-depth personal retrospectives about each film (when it will end, I do not know). Well…I’m just gonna go year by year and simply list my absolute favorite titles, one year at a time.

That’s all I’m gonna do here, but I’ll also rank them in four different categories (“personal faves,” “definite faves,” “very close to being faves,” and “need to see again”). And as with the lists from years ago, this is just how I feel about my faves in this moment. (But at least I’m honest about it.)

There’s going to be a LOT of movies to title-drop here…but that’s just because I love movies so much.

Starting from…let’s say 2020 and down:

Personal faves: David Byrne’s American Utopia, The Rental, Yes, God, Yes, I Used to Go Here, The King of Staten Island, Spontaneous
Definite faves: The Invisible Man, Bad Education, The Half of It, Palm Springs
Very close to being faves: Run, Impractical Jokers: The Movie, All Together Now, Freaky, Host, Stargirl, Horse Girl, Saint Frances, Banana Split, Tigertail, Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Need to see again: Soul, Hamilton, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, I’m Your Woman, Promising Young Woman, The Assistant, Come As You Are, The Trial of the Chicago 7, Rent-A-Pal
(Anyone who says 2020 was a lousy year for movies clearly didn’t watch enough movies.)

Personal faves: The Farewell, Parasite, 1917, Honey Boy, Little Women, Us, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Booksmart, Rocketman
Definite faves: Avengers Endgame, Jojo Rabbit, Doctor Sleep, Knives Out, Uncut Gems, Shazam!, Dolemite is My Name, Joker, The Peanut Butter Falcon, Luce, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, Blinded by the Light, Long Shot, Ready or Not, Happy Death Day 2U, Brittany Runs a Marathon, Fast Color, Marriage Story
Very close to being faves: Frozen II, Spider-Man: Far From Home, It Chapter Two, Jumanji: The Next Level, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Haunt, Hustlers, Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Good Boys
Need to see again: Toy Story 4, The Irishman, Ford v. Ferrari, The Lighthouse, John Wick Chapter 3, The Mustang, El Camino, High Flying Bird, Wild Nights with Emily

Personal faves: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Mid90s, Black Panther, Lean on Pete, Boy Erased, Wildlife, Hearts Beat Loud, Leave No Trace, Private Life, A Quiet Place, Creed II
Definite faves: Three Identical Strangers, American Animals, Eighth Grade, Avengers: Infinity War, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, If Beale Street Could Talk, Paddington 2, Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind, Shirkers, Searching, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, First Reformed, Love, Simon, Minding the Gap, Roma, The Hate U Give, The Land of Steady Habits, Halloween, The Tale, Free Solo, Ben is Back
Very close to being faves: A Star is Born, Hereditary, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Overlord, Thoroughbreds, Annihilation, Upgrade, Before I Wake, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Need to see again: They Shall Not Grow Old, Mission: Impossible–Fallout, First Man, Blindspotting, Shoplifters, Measure of a Man, Deadpool 2, Green Book

Personal faves: 45RPM, Brigsby Bear, Get Out, The Disaster Artist, It, The Big Sick, Lady Bird, Logan, Call Me By Your Name, Split, Last Flag Flying, Super Dark Times, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Definite faves: Spielberg, Brad’s Status, War for the Planet of the Apes, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Thor: Ragnarok, The Post, Gerald’s Game, Spider-Man: Homecoming, First They Killed My Father, Columbus, I, Tonya, Coco, Gifted
Very close to being faves: Power Rangers, Ingrid Goes West, Better Watch Out, Stronger, Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond, Creep 2, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, The Babysitter, A Ghost Story, The Florida Project, Okja, Win It All, Dayveon, T2: Trainspotting
Need to see again: Big Sonia, Wonder Woman, Dunkirk, Baby Driver, Molly’s Game, The Lego Batman Movie, John Wick Chapter 2, All the Money in the World, Wonder, Wind River, Colossal, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Personal faves: Midnight Special, Hush, Kung Fu Panda 3, Sing Street, 20th Century Women, Lights Out, Everybody Wants Some!!, Green Room, Train to Busan, Operation Avalanche, Don’t Think Twice
Definite faves: Deadpool, The Nice Guys, Moonlight, Ouija: Origin of Evil, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Miss Stevens, Arrival, De Palma, Kubo and the Two Strings, The Edge of Seventeen, The VVitch, Pete’s Dragon, Southside With You, Rogue One, Loving, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders
Very close to being faves: The Invitation, Hail Caesar!, Captain America: Civil War, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, The Jungle Book, Don’t Breathe, Raiders!, Blue Jay, Other People, The Shallows, The Conjuring 2
Need to see again: A Monster Calls, La La Land, Zootopia, Take Me to the River, Asperger’s Are Us, Little Men, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Moana, Manchester by the Sea, Hell or High Water

Personal faves: Inside Out, The End of the Tour, The Stanford Prison Experiment, Spotlight, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, The Gift, Unfriended
Definite faves: Creed, Mad Max: Fury Road, Cop Car, It Follows, Love & Mercy, Room, Steve Jobs, Turbo Kid, Mistress America, Two Step, Trainwreck, The Final Girls, The Visit, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, Paper Towns, Straight Outta Compton, Infinitely Polar Bear, The Walk, The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Very close to being faves: Predestination, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, Krampus, Bridge of Spies, Dope, The Big Short, A Girl Like Her, Ex Machina, True Story, No Escape, Grandma, Digging for Fire, While We’re Young
Need to see again: Beasts of No Nation, The Revenant, Amy, When Marnie Was There, The Hateful Eight, Carol, Brooklyn, What We Do in the Shadows, Unexpected, Mississippi Grind, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Tangerine, I Believe in Unicorns

Personal faves: Sacred Hearts, Holy Souls, Life Itself, Whiplash, Boyhood, Begin Again, Creep, The Sacrament, Laggies
Definite faves: Rich Hill, Man Shot Dead, Chef, Big Hero 6, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, 22 Jump Street, The Wind Rises, Top Five, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Blue Ruin, The One I Love, St. Vincent, Obvious Child, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Oculus, Birdman
Very close to being faves: The Lego Movie, The Guest, John Wick, X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Fault in Our Stars, The Skeleton Twins, Joe, Big Eyes
Need to see again: Snowpiercer, The Imitation Game, Nightcrawler, Dear White People, The Babadook, Selma, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Foxcatcher, Gone Girl, Locke, American Sniper

Personal faves: Before Midnight, Frances Ha, 56 Up, The Dirties, Gravity, The Spectacular Now, The World’s End, Short Term 12, Fruitvale Station, The Way, Way Back, Mud, The Kings of Summer
Definite faves: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Much Ado About Nothing, Don Jon, Enough Said, Stories We Tell, Inside Llewyn Davis, In a World…, Her, This is the End, Black Rock, Last Summer
Very close to being faves: Frozen, Warm Bodies, The Conjuring
Need to see again: When I Walk, Prisoners, Nebraska, Come Morning, Saving Mr. Banks, Captain Phillips, C.O.G., All is Lost, Man of Tai Chi

Personal faves: Ruby Sparks, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Safety Not Guaranteed, Celeste and Jesse Forever, Sleepwalk With Me
Definite faves: Argo, Chronicle, The Secret World of Arrietty, Sinister, ParaNorman, The Impossible, Jeff Who Lives at Home, Moonrise Kingdom, Bernie, The Hunger Games, The Cabin in the Woods, Hitchcock, Smashed, The Avengers, Robot & Frank, The Amazing Spider-Man
Very close to being faves: V/H/S, Dredd, Liberal Arts, Your Sister’s Sister, Les Miserables, The Innkeepers
Need to see again: Life of Pi, Flight, Lincoln, Skyfall, West of Memphis, Django Unchained, The Master, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty, End of Watch

Personal faves: 50/50, Take Shelter, Attack the Block
Definite faves: Hugo, The Artist, Cedar Rapids, Bridesmaids, Beginners, Arthur Christmas, The Descendants, Friends With Benefits, Drive, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Source Code, Super 8
Very close to being faves: Win Win, A Better Life, Insidious, The Myth of the American Sleepover, Terri, Fright Night, Young Adult, Scream 4, HappyThankYouMorePlease, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, 30 Minutes or Less
Need to see again: Kung Fu Panda 2, X-Men: First Class, The Tree of Life, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Submarine, The Beaver, Another Earth, Moneyball, Martha Marcy May Marlene

Personal faves: The Social Network, Toy Story 3, 127 Hours, Let Me In, True Grit, Cyrus
Definite faves: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, The Kids are All Right, Buried, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Tangled
Very close to being faves: Winter’s Bone, How to Train Your Dragon, Tiny Furniture, Rabbit Hole, Please Give, Flipped, Get Him to the Greek, Greenberg, The Book of Eli
Need to see again: The King’s Speech, Inception

Personal faves: War Eagle, Arkansas, Up, Adventureland, Inglourious Basterds
Definite faves: (500) Days of Summer, Me and Orson Welles, Funny People, I Love You, Man, Up in the Air, Sugar, Jennifer’s Body, The House of the Devil, Coraline, Humpday
Very close to being faves: Bandslam, The Hangover, Star Trek, The Loved Ones, Paranormal Activity, Paper Heart
Need to see again: Where the Wild Things Are, Moon, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Goodbye Solo, The Hurt Locker, An Education, A Serious Man, District 9, Sunshine Cleaning

Personal faves: The Dark Knight, Shotgun Stories, Let the Right One In, Iron Man, Kung Fu Panda, Baghead
Definite faves: Tropic Thunder, Pineapple Express, Frost/Nixon, Cloverfield, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Visitor, The Rocker, Henry Poole is Here, Milk, City of Ember, The Spiderwick Chronicles
Very close to being faves: Snow Angels, Be Kind Rewind, American Teen, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Marley & Me, The Wackness, The Forbidden Kingdom, Definitely Maybe, Zack and Miri Make a Porno
Need to see again: Wall-E, Slumdog Millionaire, Lake Mungo, Man on Wire, Trouble the Water, Gran Torino, In Bruges, Happy-Go-Lucky, Frozen River, Burn After Reading

Personal faves: No Country for Old Men, Hot Fuzz, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Hot Rod, Superbad, Juno
Definite faves: Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Once, Ratatouille, The Simpsons Movie, I am Legend, Margot at the Wedding, Alpha Dog, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Knocked Up, Disturbia, Into the Wild, Bridge to Terabithia, 1408, The Savages, The Namesake, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, Surf’s Up, Waitress
Very close to being faves: Lars and the Real Girl, Fracture, Bee Movie
Need to see again: There Will Be Blood, Paris Je T’Aime, Zodiac, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, Persepolis, Eastern Promises, The Lookout, Gone Baby Gone, Rec, Blades of Glory

Personal faves: United 93, Thank You For Smoking, Little Miss Sunshine, Stranger Than Fiction, Monster House, Half Nelson
Definite faves: Brick, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Puffy Chair, The Departed, Casino Royale, Letters from Iwo Jima, Clerks II
Very close to being faves: Hard Candy, This Film is Not Yet Rated, The Descent, Final Destination 3, Slither, Keeping Up With the Steins, Rocky Balboa, The Nativity Story
Need to see again: Children of Men, The Prestige, 12 and Holding, Joyeux Noel, Borat, Come Early Morning, Friends With Money

Personal faves: Good Night and Good Luck, Brokeback Mountain, War of the Worlds, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Serenity
Definite faves: Munich, King Kong, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Red Eye, Zathura, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Castle in the Sky, Sin City, The Chronicles of Narnia, A History of Violence, Capote, The Exorcism of Emily Rose
Very close to being faves: Batman Begins, The Squid and the Whale, Hustle & Flow, Stay, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Sky High
Need to see again: Broken Flowers, Millions, Match Point, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Proof, Street Fight, Junebug, Me and You and Everyone We Know

Personal faves: Before Sunset, Napoleon Dynamite, Shaun of the Dead, Collateral, Super Size Me, Mean Creek, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Definite faves: Shrek 2, The Incredibles, Saw, Spider-Man 2, Speak, Baadasssss!, Sideways, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Overnight, Kill Bill Vol. 2, Dodgeball
Very close to being faves: Touching the Void, Undertow, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, Mean Girls, The Village, The Polar Express, Spanglish, Open Water, Going to the Mat
Need to see again: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Million Dollar Baby, Closer

Personal faves: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Holes, School of Rock, Shattered Glass
Definite faves: American Splendor, Lost in Translation, Freaky Friday, The Station Agent, Pieces of April, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Bruce Almighty, Bad Santa, Kill Bill Vol. 1
Very close to being faves: Identity, Elephant, Raising Victor Vargas, Better Luck Tomorrow, Peter Pan, Hulk, Elf, Spellbound, The Battle of Shaker Heights
Need to see again: Finding Nemo, Capturing the Friedmans, Monster, Mystic River, Whale Rider, All the Real Girls, 28 Days Later, Manic

Personal faves: Signs, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Red Dragon, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Catch Me if You Can
Definite faves: Spirited Away, 25th Hour, Minority Report, The Ring, Frailty, About a Boy, Punch-Drunk Love, Kissing Jessica Stein
Very close to being faves: 8 Mile, Tuck Everlasting, The Good Girl, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Big Fat Liar, Spider-Man, Treasure Planet, Gerry
Need to see again: Insomnia, Antwone Fisher, Road to Perdition, Lilo and Stitch

Personal faves: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Accountant
Definite faves: Memento, Shrek, Donnie Darko, The Royal Tenenbaums, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, Joy Ride
Very close to being faves: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Zoolander, Monsters Inc., Tape, Spy Kids
Need to see again: A Beautiful Mind, The Devil’s Backbone, Ghost World, Ginger Snaps

Personal faves: Cast Away, Unbreakable
Definite faves: Almost Famous, Finding Forrester, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, High Fidelity
Very close to being faves: The Virgin Suicides, American Psycho, George Washington, You Can Count on Me, Shadow of the Vampire, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Disney’s The Kid, The Emperor’s New Groove
Need to see again: Billy Elliot, Requiem for a Dream, Chuck & Buck, Titus, Best in Show

Personal faves: The Sixth Sense, Toy Story 2, The Iron Giant, Magnolia, Phantom Town, October Sky
Definite faves: South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, Dogma, Election, The Blair Witch Project, The Straight Story, Rushmore, American Movie, Don’t Look Under the Bed, Bowfinger, Galaxy Quest, Smart House
Very close to being faves: Man on the Moon, Stir of Echoes, The Mummy, Tarzan
Need to see again: Boys Don’t Cry, Fight Club, The Hurricane, Eyes Wide Shut, The Matrix, Princess Mononoke, Run Lola Run, The Green Mile, The Minus Man, Office Space

Personal faves: Pleasantville, The Prince of Egypt, The Mighty
Definite faves: A Simple Plan, The Big Lebowski, The Borrowers, Mulan, The Truman Show, Smoke Signals, Dark City
Very close to being faves: Ever After, Kiki’s Delivery Service, American History X, Apt Pupil, Antz, A Bug’s Life
Need to see again: Saving Private Ryan, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Mask of Zorro, Rounders, The Horse Whisperer, Blade

Personal faves: Titanic
Definite faves: Good Will Hunting, George of the Jungle, Scream 2, My Teacher Ate My Homework, The Daytrippers, Paradise Road, Shiloh, My Best Friend’s Wedding
Very close to being faves: Chasing Amy, As Good As it Gets, Con Air
Need to see again: Boogie Nights, In & Out, The Ice Storm, Amistad, Eve’s Bayou, Contact, The Sweet Hereafter, Waiting for Guffman, L.A. Confidential, The Game, Jackie Brown, Men in Black, Ulee’s Gold

Personal faves: Fargo, Scream, Cannibal! The Musical
Definite faves: Hamlet, Jerry Maguire, Sling Blade, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Walking and Talking, From Dusk Till Dawn, The Paper Brigade, Bottle Rocket, Happy Gilmore
Very close to being faves: Trainspotting, Courage Under Fire, Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie, James and the Giant Peach
Need to see again: Flirting with Disaster, Bound, Lone Star, Freeway, The Truth About Cats and Dogs

Personal faves: Before Sunrise, Toy Story, The Indian in the Cupboard, Living in Oblivion, Heavyweights
Definite faves: Se7en, The Celluloid Closet, Jumanji, Tall Tale
Very close to being faves: The Brothers McMullen, A Little Princess, Die Hard With a Vengeance, Pocahontas
Need to see again: The Usual Suspects, Crumb, Apollo 13, Strange Days, Dead Man Walking, The Secret of Roan Inish, Dolores Claiborne, Friday

Personal faves: The Lion King, Hoop Dreams, Pulp Fiction, Ed Wood, The Client, Red
Definite faves: The Shawshank Redemption, Clerks, Speed, Forrest Gump, Fresh, Blue, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
Very close to being faves: Little Women, Little Big League, White, The Mask, Dumb and Dumber
Need to see again: Four Weddings and a Funeral, Heavenly Creatures, Bullets Over Broadway

Personal faves: Schindler’s List, Jurassic Park, Matinee, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, The Sandlot
Definite faves: Dazed and Confused, Groundhog Day, Demolition Man, Searching for Bobby Fischer, Much Ado About Nothing, King of the Hill, American Heart, Free Willy, Last Action Hero, El Mariachi, Rudy, Philadelphia, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Cool Runnings, Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Adventures of Huck Finn
Very close to being faves: Shadowlands, Mrs. Doubtfire, Fearless, Rookie of the Year
Need to see again: Grave of the Fireflies, Ruby in Paradise, A Bronx Tale, Gettysburg, Dave, The Fugitive, What’s Love Got to Do With It, The Joy Luck Club, Tombstone, The Secret Garden

Personal faves: Wayne’s World, Aladdin
Definite faves: Reservoir Dogs, Scent of a Woman, A Few Good Men, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, My Cousin Vinny, Prelude to a Kiss
Very close to being faves: Under Siege, School Ties, Batman Returns, Where the Day Takes You, Candyman
Need to see again: White Men Can’t Jump, The Waterdance, The Player, One False Move, The Crying Game, Glengarry Glen Ross, A Midnight Clear, A League of Their Own

Personal faves: Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Beauty and the Beast, The Silence of the Lambs
Definite faves: Dead Again, The People Under the Stairs, Boyz ‘N the Hood, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, Thelma and Louise, Barton Fink, City Slickers, The Rocketeer
Very close to being faves: Slacker, White Fang, Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, Point Break, Doc Hollywood, My Girl
Need to see again: Defending Your Life, The Man in the Moon, Madonna: Truth or Dare, Grand Canyon, The Fisher King

Personal faves: Goodfellas, Misery, Home Alone
Definite faves: Tremors, Back to the Future Part III, A Cry in the Wild
Very close to being faves: Cinema Paradiso, Pump Up the Volume, Die Hard 2, The Witches
Need to see again: Arachnophobia, Darkman, Dances With Wolves, Awakenings, The Exorcist III, Avalon, The Rescuers Down Under

Personal faves: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Say Anything, Do the Right Thing, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Batman, The War of the Roses, Field of Dreams
Definite faves: Lethal Weapon 2, Drugstore Cowboy, When Harry Met Sally…, Back to the Future Part II, Dead Poets Society, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
Very close to being faves: My Left Foot, In Country, Roger & Me, Casualties of War, Born on the Fourth of July, The Little Mermaid, Chances Are
Need to see again: Glory, The Abyss

Personal faves: Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Big, Die Hard, Beetlejuice, Bull Durham
Definite faves: Rain Man, Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam, A Fish Called Wanda, Permanent Record, The Last Temptation of Christ, Vice Versa, Running on Empty, The Thin Blue Line, The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, Midnight Run, They Live
Very close to being faves: Mystic Pizza, Killer Klowns From Outer Space, The Blob, Child’s Play
Need to see again: Working Girl, Mississippi Burning, Dangerous Liaisons, Boyfriends and Girlfriends, The Accidental Tourist, Colors, Clean and Sober, She’s Having a Baby

Personal faves: Planes, Trains & Automobiles, The Monster Squad, The Princess Bride, Full Metal Jacket, Near Dark, The Stepfather, The Lost Boys, Some Kind of Wonderful
Definite faves: Lethal Weapon, Good Morning, Vietnam, River’s Edge, Broadcast News, RoboCop, Empire of the Sun, Raising Arizona, Predator, Innerspace, The Gate, The Untouchables
Very close to being faves: Moonstruck, The Hidden, Evil Dead II, Fatal Attraction, No Way Out, Spaceballs, Less Than Zero, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, Big Shots
Need to see again: Withnail & I, Jean de Florette, Manon of the Spring, Swimming to Cambodia, House of Games, The Big Easy, Roxanne, Light of Day

Personal faves: Stand by Me, Lucas, Blue Velvet, At Close Range, Platoon, Aliens, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Definite faves: The Great Mouse Detective, Ruthless People, Hoosiers, Smooth Talk, Manhunter, The Hitcher, Children of a Lesser God, The Fly, Night of the Creeps, Flight of the Navigator, The Manhattan Project, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Very close to being faves: Little Shop of Horrors, Peggy Sue Got Married, Something Wild, Big Trouble in Little China, F/X, Crossroads, The Boy Who Could Fly
Need to see again: True Stories, Down by Law, Hannah and Her Sisters, Sid and Nancy, A Room With a View, Desert Bloom, Jo Jo Dancer: Your Life is Calling

Personal faves: Back to the Future, The Goonies, 28 Up, Runaway Train, Witness, Real Genius, The Breakfast Club, Mask, Streetwise, Explorers, Young Sherlock Holmes
Definite faves: The Sure Thing, Blood Simple, The Purple Rose of Cairo, D.A.R.Y.L., Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Sylvester
Very close to being faves: Vision Quest, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, Code of Silence, The Journey of Natty Gann
Need to see again: Brazil, Lost in America, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, My Life as a Dog, The Color Purple, After Hours

Personal faves: Amadeus, Ghostbusters, The Karate Kid, Stop Making Sense, Gremlins, The Terminator, This is Spinal Tap, Starman
Definite faves: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Firstborn, All of Me, The Neverending Story, The Flamingo Kid, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Natural, Stranger Than Paradise, Love Letters
Very close to being faves: Beverly Hills Cop, Purple Rain, Romancing the Stone, That Sinking Feeling
Need to see again: Once Upon a Time in America, Paris, Texas, The Killing Fields, Comfort and Joy, Repo Man, The Brother From Another Planet, Moscow on the Hudson, The Stone Boy

Personal faves: A Christmas Story, The Outsiders, Risky Business, Christine
Definite faves: Bad Boys, WarGames, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Tender Mercies, The Big Chill, Never Cry Wolf
Very close to being faves: Terms of Endearment, Return of the Jedi, The Dead Zone, Sleepaway Camp
Need to see again: The Right Stuff, El Norte, Local Hero, Silkwood, Testament, The King of Comedy

Personal faves: Tex, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Definite faves: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, My Favorite Year, The Secret of NIMH, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Tootsie, The Thing, Gregory’s Girl
Very close to being faves: Personal Best, First Blood, Creepshow, Poltergeist
Need to see again: Blade Runner, An Officer and a Gentleman

Personal faves: Raiders of the Lost Ark, On Golden Pond, The Great Muppet Caper
Definite faves: An American Werewolf in London, Gates of Heaven
Very close to being faves: My Dinner with Andre, Time Bandits, Superman II, Melvin and Howard, Stripes, Blow Out, The Evil Dead
Need to see again: Continental Divide, Southern Comfort, Escape from New York

Personal faves: The Empire Strikes Back, The Shining
Definite faves: Raging Bull, The Blues Brothers, Ordinary People, Fame, My Bodyguard
Very close to being faves: Caddyshack, Airplane!, Nine to Five
Need to see again: Coal Miner’s Daughter, Used Cars

Personal faves: Alien, The Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner Movie, Breaking Away, Rocky II, The Muppet Movie
Definite faves: Salem’s Lot, Phantasm, Over the Edge, Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Kramer vs. Kramer
Very close to being faves: The Black Stallion, 1941, Dawn of the Dead, The Double McGuffin, Time After Time
Need to see again: Being There, The China Syndrome, The Onion Field

Personal faves: Halloween, Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Definite faves: Coming Home, A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ But a Sandwich, The Buddy Holly Story
Very close to being faves: Superman, Days of Heaven, Animal House, Heaven Can Wait, I Wanna Hold Your Hand
Need to see again: Girlfriends, An Unmarried Woman, Magic, Interiors

Personal faves: Star Wars, 21 Up
Definite faves: Annie Hall, Saturday Night Fever, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Very close to being faves: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, One on One, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, Oh, God!, Smokey and the Bandit
Need to see again: Slap Shot

Personal faves: Rocky, Taxi Driver, The Bad News Bears
Definite faves: Bugsy Malone, Swept Away
Very close to being faves: Carrie, Freaky Friday
Need to see again: All the President’s Men, Network, Marathon Man

Personal faves: Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Jaws
Definite faves: Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
Very close to being faves: Escape to Witch Mountain
Need to see again: Nashville, Dog Day Afternoon, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Shampoo

Definite faves: The Godfather Part II, The Conversation, Black Christmas, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
Need to see again: Young Frankenstein, Chinatown, Blazing Saddles, The Longest Yard, The Towering Inferno, The Sugarland Express

Personal faves: Day for Night, The Last Detail
Definite faves: The Exorcist, Badlands, Paper Moon, Mean Streets
Very close to being faves: American Graffiti
Need to see again: The Paper Chase, Enter the Dragon

Personal faves: The Godfather, Sounder
Definite faves: Deliverance, What’s Up Doc?
Very close to being faves: The Poseidon Adventure
Need to see again: The Heartbreak Kid

Personal faves: Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Definite faves: A Clockwork Orange, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, The Last Picture Show, Harold and Maude, Play Misty For Me
Very close to being faves: Duel, Summer of ’42
Need to see again: Straw Dogs, The French Connection, A New Leaf, Dirty Harry

Personal faves: True Grit
Need to see again: The Wild Bunch, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice

Personal faves: 2001: A Space Odyssey
Definite faves: Rosemary’s Baby, Planet of the Apes
Very close to being faves: Night of the Living Dead
Need to see again: Targets

Definite faves: Bonnie and Clyde, Wait Until Dark
Very close to being faves: The Graduate
Need to see again: The Incident, In the Heat of the Night

Definite faves: That Darn Cat!
Need to see again: The Great Race, The Sound of Music

Personal faves: Mary Poppins, Dr. Strangelove
Definite faves: A Hard Day’s Night

Personal faves: The Haunting
Definite faves: The Sword in the Stone, The Birds, From Russia With Love, Lord of the Flies

Personal faves: To Kill a Mockingbird

Personal faves: Psycho
Definite faves: The Apartment, Pollyanna, Swiss Family Robinson

Personal faves: The 400 Blows, Darby O’Gill and the Little People

Personal faves: 12 Angry Men, Old Yeller
Definite faves: The Incredible Shrinking Man
Very close to being faves: Johnny Tremain

Personal faves: Rear Window
Definite faves: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, On the Waterfront

Definite faves: Strangers on a Train

Personal faves: Rashomon, Sunset Boulevard

Personal faves: It’s a Wonderful Life

Definite faves: Casablanca

Definite faves: Citizen Kane

Personal faves: Fantasia
Definite faves: Pinocchio, The Great Dictator
Need to see again: The Shop Around the Corner

Personal faves: The Wizard of Oz

Personal faves: City Lights

Definite faves: Nosferatu, The Kid

Whew! That took a lot out of me–I hope I don’t have to do it again for a long time. But there you have it: the movies I love, even more movies I love, movies that still have a place in my heart, and movies that I…well, need to see again.

My Favorite Movies – Psycho (1960)

13 Oct

By Tanner Smith

You know how for many horror movies, people don’t like to give away the endings? Well, for Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” I don’t have to! For one thing, you’d have a hard time trying to find anyone who doesn’t know the twists by now, thanks to its sequels, references to it in other films like “Scream,” and especially the “Bates Motel” TV series.

And also, there’s hardly any room for me to analyze when there’s a scene at the end that does it all for me!

And yeah, it is debatable that the expository scene with the psychiatrist was needed, even back when it was released in 1960…I don’t let it ruin the experience for me. As with other thrillers like “The Sixth Sense,” coming back to “Psycho” with what I already know makes it more interesting to wonder what characters are thinking in certain scenes and what other silent moments might actually mean. Norman Bates, played brilliantly by Anthony Perkins, is such an interesting albeit horrifying character that he is what makes the film worth revisiting if everything else about the film failed.

I love “Psycho.” I love the suspense, I love the set design, and more importantly, I love the story structure, as it follows one character we assume is the main character until she turns out to become the reason for the rest of the story to take place and other elements pop up to make it more inventive…it’s terrific!

I also love the story about the making of “Psycho,” chronicled in the book “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho” (which was also adapted into an entertaining film adaptation simply titled “Hitchcock,” starring Anthony Hopkins as the man himself). Hitchcock wanted to feel the way he used to feel when he first started making films, and he read the “Psycho” book and decided he wanted to make it, despite nobody giving him money to do so. (The studio agreed to distribute the film, but Hitchcock had to put up the film’s budget himself.) So many people were telling him this film shouldn’t be made because there were so many things that weren’t done in film before. Just because it HASN’T been done doesn’t mean it CAN’T be done–that’s the basis for all the stories we hear about artists pushing the envelope.

And Hitchcock made the film’s trailer, in which he walks around the film sets and tells the audience about the things that happen in the story–in fact, he gives away most of the scares! He can’t bring himself to explain the more violent material in the film, and so he’s vague about all the details he’s trying to inform the audience about. I get the feeling that because of his droll interpretation of his horror story, people had to go see the movie just to understand what the hell he’s even talking about!

My favorite scene: the sandwich-dinner scene between Norman and Marion is especially gripping when you already know the fates of both characters.

“Psycho” is a film that can scare/entertain/provoke thought to people and influence/inspire filmmakers (like M. Night Shyamalan, who took a lot of inspiration from Hitchcock movies like “Psycho” and “The Birds”). And there can only be one–“Psycho II” was fine, but there can only be ONE Psycho. And no one, not even Vince Vaughn and director Gus Van Sant, can try to change our minds. (Also, “Bates Motel” is more its own thing, despite having characters from “Psycho.” And it’s a pretty solid series.)

My Favorite Movies – The Shining (1980)

13 Oct

By Tanner Smith

Whether you find Stephen King’s book “The Shining” scary or not, you have to admit the story involving the character of Jack Torrance is a fascinating albeit tragic one. Here’s a guy looking to redeem himself after his alcohol addiction severely hurt his son, and now he’s alone with his son and wife to look after a secluded hotel for the winter season. Something in the hotel feeds his inner psyche and causes him to go insane. What saves his soul and his family’s life is one last act of redemption that puts a stop to the haunting, but even that has a horrific tragedy to it.

And you could say the 1997 miniseries adapted from the book (by King himself) captured that very well. But when it comes to scares, we all remember the excellent 1980 Stanley Kubrick adaptation, “The Shining”…because it was scary as hell!

But first, let me address the two huge elephants in the room. One is the horrid directing tactics Kubrick was known for, particularly when it came to directing Shelley Duvall, who plays Jack’s vulnerable wife Wendy. If you watch the making-of documentary (directed by Kubrick’s daughter Vivian), you get a taste of just how cruel Kubrick was to Duvall and how exhausted Duvall was as a result. (Kubrick was a master director, but if you looked up more about him, you’d realize…he was kind of an ass too. You can’t get away with this stuff today.)

And the other is…King hated the movie. He’s warmed up to it a little since then, but in adapting his novel, King felt betrayed by the different vision Kubrick had come up with. He referred to it as “like a big, beautiful cadillac with no engine inside it.”

One of his biggest problems with the movie was the character of Jack Torrance, played by Jack Nicholson. He felt that Jack was crazy from the moment he entered the film and got crazier as the film continued.

And that, to me, is what I find interesting about this version of “The Shining.” Whereas the novel and the miniseries are more stories about redemption, the film is a straight-up horror story about a psychopath who has a chance at redemption and, instead of taking it, ultimately loses himself to the madness. He IS crazy from the moment he takes the job at the hotel, and we do hear of the incident in which he hurt his son Danny which caused him to quit drinking. We can sense that he’s hurting inside and it’s a different kind of withdrawal process, different from the original story, that is causing him to want to break out of his shell. The hotel uses THAT against him, acting as a poison working through Jack’s defenses until he has nothing left to shield himself from them and he fulfills what feels like his destiny. And Jack has no chance of saving himself by the time things go from bad to worse.

At least, that’s how I see it. There are a lot of intriguing theories people have come up with after seeing this film countless times. (I wonder if any of those people were the ones who hated it originally because it didn’t explain everything that was on its mind…)

The film looks great. It’s the kind of otherworldly feel that only a master like Stanley Kubrick could bring to the screen. The cinematography is top-notch and the production design is utterly impressive. And it feels cold–so cold that you feel uncomfortable all throughout the film and yet you keep watching because it’s so effective. It especially works because the real fear is open to interpretation. Nothing is spelled out for the audience.

Oh, did I mention that Kubrick and Duvall for nominated for Razzie Awards for this film? As if you needed another reason to not take the Razzies seriously!

Critics didn’t quite know what to make of “The Shining” when it was first released. Audiences were even more confused. But since then, it’s gotten people talking about how strange and metaphorical it is, and now it’s considered a classic in the horror genre. And every time, I watch it, I get chills running up and down my spine.

I think much of the reasoning as to why has to do with the final shot: a photograph that says much and yet says nothing at the same time. What does it mean??

The moment that gets under my skin each time I watch it is late in the film when Wendy discovers what Jack’s been writing this whole time. You think he’s been working hard on his new novel, but instead…it’s just this line repeated on hundreds of pages: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” That doesn’t merely cement Jack’s “crazy” status…instead, it shows us how long he’s been going crazy! (“How do you like it?” “AAHH!!”)

On its own, “The Shining” is a masterpiece regardless of its source material. It takes you on a bizarre trip into madness and forces us to observe as someone slowly but surely loses what was left of his sanity. In the process, we get many scary details, such as creepy ghost twin girls, axe murders, and a chase through a snowy hedge maze…

“REDRUM!” “Here’s Johnny!” “Come play with us, Danny. Forever…and ever…and ever.”

My Favorite Movies – Christine (1983)

13 Oct

By Tanner Smith

John Carpenter reportedly didn’t put as much passion into the 1983 Stephen King adaptation “Christine,” because he was still going through depression brought on by the overwhelmingly negative reception of “The Thing,” a film he put his heart and soul into…

I honestly couldn’t tell, because I think “Christine” is one of his best films.

Seriously, I love this film. And it’s a film about a killer car–you’d have to be a very skilled director to make something like that work. Even though this was basically a work-for-hire, Carpenter didn’t treat it as such…or maybe he did, and it still turned out well despite that.

I think part of the reason the film works is because of two things. One is the lead character, Arnie (Keith Gordon), who is already a creep and a dweeb before his influence from the malevolent presence inside the car turns him into a jerk with aggressive tendencies. That not only makes his story more interesting but also more tragic in how his story ends. He’s basically made a deal with the devil, to get the girl and look cool, and in exchange, he’ll do what he feels needs to be done (or what Christine tells him needs to be done).

And another important reason it works is because of the slow buildup to the true terror that occurs midway through the film. We’re already put in a realistic setting, and the characters of Arnie and his best friend Dennis (John Stockwell) feel real enough, and because of that, we’re more able to accept when the supernatural takes over and the car has a mind of its own that goes on a killing spree against Arnie’s bullies.

And when the car does spring into action, it makes for some pretty awesome chase sequences. My favorite scene is one in which Christine chases the bully Moochie–I especially love when Moochie stops and looks back where he was being followed, only to find that it’s coming another direction.

Stephen King has always been good at revenge stories, which is why it’s satisfying when so many of the crappier people in “Christine,” based on his novel, get their comeuppances. But did that one guy seriously have to get inside the car? It’s almost like he was asking to be squashed to death. (Actually, Darnell’s death in the book was crazier than that…look it up if you want.)

And there’s the climax with Christine going up against a bulldozer–simply put, it’s awesome!

I’m not going to lie–“Christine” is my second-favorite John Carpenter film. “Halloween” is first obviously, and “The Thing” and “Starman” are fighting for the number-three spot, while “They Live” and “Big Trouble in Little China” fight to squeeze into the top-5…it’s difficult, guys. I love “Christine”…probably even more than the King book.

My Favorite Movies – Explorers (1985)

13 Oct

By Tanner Smith

I didn’t know it at the time, but one of my favorite movie directors as a kid was Joe Dante. When I was growing up and while I didn’t know the name of the director, I watched a lot of his movies (“Gremlins,” Matinee, “Small Soldiers,” “Innerspace,” among others) and noticed many similarities that I enjoyed watching–goofy lighthearted fun, some dark comedy, referential in-jokes about classic cartoons, and good fast-paced entertainment (oh, and a Dick Miller cameo appearance in each one of his movies).

And the one I watched the most in my childhood was definitely his sci-fi fantasy, “Explorers,” about three kids (two of which are played by a young Ethan Hawke and a young River Phoenix) who are launched into space via their own homemade spaceship and actually make contact with an alien species…

OK, that premise does sound admittedly ridiculous, but surprisingly, this movie manages to tell its story in a plausible way (plausible enough in its setup, anyway). The kids are portrayed as real kids and the film takes its time to show how they’re able to create their own flying spaceship; the first 40 minutes shows how it comes from a simple discovery to a way of getting in touch with aliens who send out signals even in their dreams. Later in the film, they do go up in space and find an alien spaceship.
People are split about this film–they either like it or…I don’t think there’s anyone who hates it, but there are people who lose interest when the kids go into space.

It wasn’t well-received when it was originally released in theaters and that it’s grown a cult following over the years. What people seem to agree on is that while the setup is suitably serious, the payoff is just plain silly. And I would have to agree; it seems writer Eric Luke suddenly remembered he was writing a kid’s movie and decided to throw in a cartoonish punchline to everything being set up before so that the younger viewers will be amused. The weird thing is, the buildup actually promises something more than that, like something along the lines of “Close Encounters,” where the kids stumble upon something big. But they instead find a couple of goofy aliens who love to watch television and impersonate any Earth pop-culture icon that can think of. It is kind of a weird turn that this movie makes. I didn’t mind it as a kid because I liked the aliens and thought they had some funny charm to them.

This is going to sound strange, but I don’t really mind it that much. While I should give it a negative review because the film is kind of inconsistent in that sense, I…kinda like some of the stuff having to do with the aliens. It’s cute, it’s amusing enough, and I love Robert Picardo as the zany alien Wak. On the one hand, it’s a huge disappointment. On the other hand, it’s…cute?

I can’t help it. I have a real soft spot for this film. Is it great? No. Is it silly at times? Absolutely. But there’s something so inventive and charming about it that makes it fun to watch each time. It’s charming with a whimsical spirit to it; I like how it shows step-by-step the construction of the kids’ spaceship; the set design of the alien spaceship looks fantastic; and all three kids are likable. The payoff may not be what its buildup may have promised, and I can understand why people wouldn’t like it because of that. (Even Siskel & Ebert summed it up with a strong point: “One of the things you don’t want to know in a space film is that it’s less interesting up there than it is here.”) But I still enjoying watching this one every now and then.

My Favorite Movies – Us (2019)

13 Oct

By Tanner Smith

I was talking with a friend recently about why I enjoy Jordan Peele’s films, and my reason for it just came to me–it’s because they represent the best of two different types of horror films we often see in terms of pure terror. Does he want to make a piece of mainstream entertainment in the horror genre? Or does he want to make a more sophisticated, artistic, allegorical film?

He does them both. If you want to analyze Get Out and Us, you can. If you want to be entertained, you can. It’s the best of both worlds.

“Get Out” was my favorite film of 2017, so I was excited to see how Peele’s next film would turn out. From the trailer, I could see that it was another horror film and details were left thankfully vague. I didn’t want to be like those people who were so excited to see M. Night Shyamalan’s “Unbreakable” because of how much they loved “The Sixth Sense,” only to be let down because, guess what, they expected another “Sixth Sense” and it wasn’t another “Sixth Sense” because it’s was freaking “Unbreakable” which is freaking awesome and– My point is I tried not to overhype myself for “Us” because I knew it wasn’t going to be “Get Out.”

If “Get Out” is in my top 100, then Us is probably in my top 200-300 (which still means I think it’s pretty great).

Peele knows the horror genre is perfect for the concept of allegory in fable, like a cautionary tale or a morality tale or a social commentary or whatever. What do the “Tethered” doubles in “Us” represent? I think it’s safe to deduce that it’s about the haves and the have-nots fighting themselves.

You have the father, Gabe (Winston Duke, amazing here), showing off his newly-purchased boat and pushing his family to go hang out on the beach with wealthier friends. You see the fancy devices of those same friends failing them in a darkly funny, ironic way. You listen to what the Tethered, particularly Red (who’s the only one that speaks), has experienced and how it’s a dark, twisted parallel to what all these people have experienced. And then, you put it all together after the remarkably brilliant ending and you have this beautifully twisted horror film that provokes thought and discussion.

Just like “Get Out.” But for different reasons, which I was more than thankful for.

My favorite scene: the entire home-invasion sequence that starts off the central terror for our key characters is wonderfully done. From Winston Duke’s hilarious attempts at trying to resolve the issue before it starts, to Red’s horrifying story she shares with the family, to everyone’s individual battles with their Tethered selves, to the resolution that makes you sigh with relief (except we know it’s far from over…). It’s all just an example of great filmmaking. If I had to pick an individual scene from this entire section of the film, I guess it’d have to be Red’s story because of how well Lupita Nyong’o plays it.

Now I want to tell this story:

I know a person (who will be anonymous) who is very picky about the movies she chooses to watch, meaning she doesn’t particularly care for horror films. The day after I saw “Us” in a theater, I told her about it and she didn’t care at all what I say and then proceeded to give her own theory about what she was so certain happened in it without having seen it…I then told her, “That’s not what happens at all.” Going against my better judgment, I gave away all the secrets of the film to her, and then to my astonishment, she replied, “Wow…that sounds really interesting!”

Later, she told me that she did see the movie and that it was one of her favorites of the year.

Revisiting: Halloween (2018)

7 Oct

By Tanner Smith

I really like “Halloween”…er, Halloween 2018…couldn’t they have called it “Halloween Returns?” I get why they wouldn’t call it “Halloween II,” seeing as how there are already two “Halloween II’s”…then again, there are now three “Halloweens!!”

How about “Halloween: 40 Years Later?” Or “Halloween: Laurie v. Michael?” Or “Halloween: The Return of Great Filmmaking & Good Reviews For a Halloween Movie?”

I’ll stick with calling it “Halloween 2018” because to me, there’s only one “Halloween”: John Carpenter’s Halloween, one of my favorite scary movies of all time.

David Gordon Green’s “Halloween?” It’s good too. I liked it when I first saw it in a theater. A few more viewings at home, it gets better.


Why do I like it so much? Well, for one thing, it’s the “Halloween” sequel I was waiting for…mostly because it pretended that the other sequels didn’t exist. (Not only are Michael Myers and Laurie Strode not blood-related anymore, but also, Ben Tramer is probably alive again!) I know a lot of people don’t like the idea of retconning everything in previous sequels, but…c’mon, did you really believe Laurie Strode was Michael Myers’ sister?

Btw, I don’t hate “Halloween II”–I only hate parts of it.

Secondly, they got David Gordon Green as director and he’s tackled every other genre but horror–he and his co-writer Danny McBride (yes, THAT Danny McBride) have a clear admiration for the source material, and so they put their talents to good use here. They pay homage to parts of “Halloween” while adding some new, modern techniques. (And that goes for the music too–its alterations add to the more tense sequences late in the film.)

Third, they got Jason Blum as producer–he can make three “Halloween” sequels at the cost of one “Friday the 13th 2009!” (You don’t need 19 million dollars to make a slasher movie!!)

And fourth, much of this film is hella tense! I can’t remember the last time in a slasher movie where I actually FELT the fear of a teenager about to be killed by a masked madman. And the climax with Laurie? Awesome.

Maybe it’s because I’ve seen this new “Halloween” so many times, but I don’t really have that much to complain about anymore.

A lot of critics complain about the random comedic bits thrown in here and there–I don’t really have a problem with it. To me, it just shows more atmosphere. Even the dad’s unfunny “peanut butter” joke…it’s a dad joke. Of course it’s not meant to be funny.

Oh, and what about the jerk boyfriend who survives because he’s never seen again for the rest of the movie? I like my horror films to be unpredictable. If he comes back in “Halloween Kills” and/or “Halloween Ends,” I dunno–maybe he has a Steve-from-Stranger-Things type of development or maybe he gets killed in the first act of “Halloween Kills.”

What about the kid that Vicky was babysitting? He’s never seen again either….that’s because he was the smart one for getting the hell out of the house!! Aren’t we always complaining about horror-movie characters NOT doing that? Actually…I heard a theory that since “Halloween Kills” is supposedly more intense and takes no prisoners, this kid, Julian, is probably going to die…man I hope that’s not the case. That’d be like killing John Connor in “Terminator: Dark Fate.” (Wait…)

What about Judy Greer’s character of Laurie’s daughter and the line everyone makes fun of (“The world is not a dark and evil place! It is full of love and understanding!”)? Guys…she had a rough childhood and she’s married to a loser. It’s not that hard to get why she wants to believe everything is fine.

But what about the doctor who turns out to be evil and then gets killed?……..Well OK, I think that part could’ve been developed a little more. Makes me wonder if they’re going to try something like that in the sequels.

If I keep thinking about how the sequels will turn out, I’m gonna turn into a disappointed “Star Wars” fanatic.

I like “Halloween 2018”–I like Jamie Lee Curtis, I like the atmosphere, I like that it feels more like Halloween night than the original “Halloween” (to be fair, this one has a bigger budget, so they could afford more decor), I like the pumpkin in the opening credits, I like the climax, and more importantly, I like that I can like a “Halloween” movie again.

And I look forward to seeing “Halloween Kills”…and then “Halloween Ends”…and I’m sure that’ll be the last we see of the Boogeyman…

But maybe not.

My Favorite Movies – Super Size Me (2004)

6 Oct

By Tanner Smith

Back in my university days, I was studying the art of documentary film. I developed a true fondness for cinematic non-fiction such as “Hoop Dreams,” the “Up” series, “Life Itself,” “Streetwise,” “The Thin Blue Line,” “The Decline of Western Civilization Part II,” “Paradise Lost,” “Touching the Void,” “Roger & Me,” “Trouble the Water,” among others–all of these films took great measures in making real-life stories into compelling cinematic art.

One of my absolute favorites then and now was and is Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me,” a documentary that told a serious message in a thoroughly entertaining way. I think it was this film that taught me that when it came to documentary filmmaking, entertainment can be just as important as telling a compelling story. Likable people become dramatic characters, performance art helps illustrate points, the narrator could be a wisecracker, and so on.

Morgan Spurlock puts himself at center-stage in his own movie, “Super Size Me,” in which he decides he’s going to go on a month-long diet of nothing but McDonald’s–if McDonald’s doesn’t sell it, he can’t eat it. And if he’s given the option of Super Size, he HAS to take it. (Since this film’s release in 2004, McDonald’s has gotten rid of the Super Size Option–though, they claim the film had nothing to do with that decision.)

Spurlock is a very likable guy, so I have no problem following him on this journey to see what would happen if he stays on this ridiculous diet for a full 30 days. And more importantly, he doesn’t shy away from showing what eating fast food day after day does to a person with no balanced diet. For example, one day, he’s sitting in his car, going to town on his Super Size double quarter pounder cheese meal, enjoying a sugar high, and unable to finish it before he has to upchuck. This is only the beginning…

He frequently visits three physicians to keep track of what this food is doing to his health. What happens is he gains close to 25 pounds, his liver malfunctions, his sex drive is low on energy, and he has heart palpitations.

There’s a reason my mother, who is a high-school Family and Consumer Science teacher, likes to show this film to her classes.

We also join Spurlock on certain detours, as he visits people who are also affected by fast-food effects and also takes a look at public schools to compare cafeteria lunches. The message is clear–we as Americans consume too much fast food, which doesn’t do well for our health, and we need to either have a more balanced diet or swear off it entirely. If not for Spurlock’s vision, drive, and biting wit, “Super Size Me” would simply be a PowerPoint presentation not worth spending too much time talking about. (I’m looking at YOU, “Forks Over Knives.”)

Plus, the experiment is a great hook–it’s one thing to be told fast food is bad for you; it’s another to see it demonstrated.

And yes, I know the effect is not the same for everybody–there have been people besides McDonald’s spokesmen that argue that this diet allows weight and cholesterol reduction. And I know Morgan Spurlock is aware of this too–but c’mon, it’s his movie. His main goal isn’t to keep his audience away from McDonald’s but simply to show what heavy consumption of McDonald’s COULD do to people, like what it did to him. He’s showing us in a lighthearted way an understanding of what we’re eating.

Btw, check out “Super Size Me’s” DVD extras–there’s another experiment Spurlock tries out, with different burgers and fries; watch what happens with McDonald’s fries after a while…