Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Powerful Cinematic/Small Screen Moments: My Own (Partial) List

Boom, baby!

Over at a WGON Helicopter favorite, The Horror Digest, my good friend Andre discussed a recent poll by Filmclub regarding the most powerful moments in cinema. I fully agree with her that these polls and "official lists" and their ilk shouldn't be considered definitive and the ultimate authority on what is or isn't. One person's powerful moment may be another person's groaner, and vice versa. To me, it's much more interesting to see a variety of lists, as was done with Andre's original Top 10 Willie-Inducing Moments challenge - there are plenty of enlightening "I didn't think about that one" realizations upon seeing others' lists (see mine here). I had originally compiled some of these as an article I was outlining about moments in film that have made me say, "there's something in my eye."

With that in mind, I'm going to expand it and present a few of what I consider powerful moments in film (and TV). Some might be horror, some might not be. The movies or shows you enjoy should move you in some way, and although I focus on the scary parts of the whole beast in this blog, this article will include the funny and sad as well as the scary. You might agree with some of them, and there might be some at which you roll your eyes. That's fine. It's my list.

In no particular order:

LOST "The End" final scene

OK, let me nip this in the bud right now: I'm not going to open this up to arguments over whether or not the finale "sucked." I'm aware of how some people thought the ending wasn't right. I'm not one of them. I thought it was the very definition of a perfect ending. I'm not posting this to start an argument, but rather to show my feelings on it in terms of powerful moments.

Now, why this scene? There are several during that last episode that kick me right in the gut, but the final scene, after everything's tied together, gets me every time.


To sum up - because recounting the entire mythology of the series would take forever - heroic Dr. Jack Shepherd has been mortally wounded, despite winning his battle with an ancient evil force on the island and saving the world. We discover that the "sideways world" paralleling the present world is actually a sort of "heavenly waiting room" where this tight group of people would gather before moving on. Cutting between his true reunion with those he most loved and his final moments in actual life, the series comes full circle as Jack finds and collapses in the very spot he woke up in the first episode. It's already hard watching Jack slowly die, but when Vincent runs out of the woods as he did in the first show, his appearance and Jack's smile are perfect. But when Vincent lays next to Jack - the final demonstration of no one ever really going it alone on the show - something somehow gets in my eye. Top that with Jack's triumphant final smile as he sees the remaining survivors escape in a repaired plane, and try not to feel something. I mean, have you no soul?

There were plenty of great moments like this all through the entire series, but that would be an entirely different blog altogether for another day.

Gladiator - Commodus pretty much poops his pants

You know the moment: Maximus, once a mighty Roman Army general, is betrayed and left for dead by the conniving Commodus. Maximus fights his way back to Rome through sheer badassery. Impressed by this mysterious gladiator, Commodus demands to meet him, and this reveal causes the "awwwwww, crap" expression to spread across his face:

I've seen this movie a million times, I've practically worn out the Hans Zimmer score, and this moment still makes me want to say, "in your face, Commodus!"

Dawn of the Dead (1978) - Roger's last wishes

It's no secret that the original Dawn of the Dead is my favorite horror movie, and among my favorite movies, no matter what the genre. To say it's influential is a gross understatement. While there are many scenes that give me chills, this scene sums up the sadness of Roger's inevitable death and zombification. The tough Peter - who only had met Roger just before their escape from Philadelphia - visibly cracks a little under the stress and emotion of a comrade and friend weakly crying out his final wishes.

Doctor Who "Doomsday" - The Doctor and Rose are forced to part

I came into Doctor Who late, but absolutely devoured all the recent episodes since the series was revived in 2005. It goes without saying that of the three outstanding actors they've had play The Doctor in that time, David Tennant is the favorite (not to take away from Christopher Eccleston and Matt Smith). The chemistry between Tennant and former pop singer Billie Piper as Rose Tyler was undeniable. So when it came time for Piper to move on, the character of Rose wasn't killed off, but left stranded in a parallel dimension as a result with a battle between The Doctor, Torchwood, and two of the Doctor's worst enemies, the Daleks and the Cybermen. Rose and The Doctor had fallen in love, but had never admitted it until...

Schindler's List - "I could have done more."

Schindler's List is simply a masterpiece, a real cinematic piece of art about a real and very dark time in our world's history. Among the many great performances in that movie was that of Liam Neeson as the titular Oskar Schindler, a wealthy German who lost faith in the Nazi Party and saw the value of human life in his Jewish workers. Every name he put on a list would be spared the concentration camps, a mission to which he became dedicated. When the war ends, he realizes he should leave the country, but even more devastating is his belief that he could have saved one, two, many more lives by sacrificing as much as he could. His knee-buckling revelation and the workers' rush to support him gets me every single time.

Dragons Forever - the "who needs wires" end fight scene

Although I've let myself slip in recent years, Hong Kong action films were often my genre of choice, especially in the 90's. Now, I was always a huge Jackie Chan fan. I saw Cannonball Run in the theaters as a kid, and that was my first exposure to his wildly acrobatic martial arts style. Some time later, I saw The Big Brawl, a very Americanzied version of that style. I had little idea this guy had a superstar career besides what my then-limited resources could uncover. After seeing a documentary on Hong Kong films sometime around 1992, I was able to obtain a copy of Dragons Forever, starring Chan with his childhood buddies Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao. What I saw floored me. Gave me chills. Made me want to get up and try to avoid pulling a hamstring imitating the insane action on the TV screen. Hard-hitting, acrobatic, and mind-boggling - just three adjectives I can use to describe it all. Watching Chan battle kickboxing champion Benny "The Jet" Urquidez in that final scene simply blew me away, and there is nothing like the string of tremendous films these guys made during the 80's.

I called this a "partial" list because there are others I could include. Many others. What draws us to the movies and shows we love? Moments that touch us in some way, the hope that there are more moments like these in productions we're about to see. It could be a line, a martial arts battle, a snippet of music, the expression on an actor's face, a sequence of events that encodes itself into each of our unique tastes and feelings.

It's why we all love to sit in our comfy chair or that perfect seat at the theater and allow ourselves to be drawn into whatever stimulates that unique taste.

Until next time, it's time I turned on the DVD player and lose myself in what I'm about to watch.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Two Years of The WGON Helicopter: Now I Want Cake

Seems like just yesterday I was typing up the one-year birthday blog for this ol' thing. Time absolutely flies.

Just about two years ago, I first took the WGON Helicopter up into the sky. I always intended for it to be a fun outlet for me to talk about things horror: movies, comics, personal fears, books, games, pretty much anything I felt like writing about in that field. Looking ahead, I want to continue to write about those aspects of horror in an intelligent, hopefully funny way that leaves the reader more informed or entertained than when he or she came into each article. I'd like to make some improvements to the overall look and layout of the blog, and there will be some changes - little things, mostly - that only enhance the experience.

I'm having fun with The WGON Helicopter. I hope you are, too, dear readers. Thanks for your readership, and thank you to all those peers who have supported me, given me advice, or simply have been mighty friendly for the past two years. Readers, take some time to explore some of the other blogs I've listed over on the sidebar. There are some great reads there, written by some really good people. I'll be adding even more in the coming days.

Thanks again, and keep watching the skies, fellow survivors!

Product Review: T-Shirt Bordello

As I've said before, I love t-shirts. I have a discerning eye for them, and they have to represent something about me. A movie or TV show I enjoy, a college I attended (of which there are three), comics I enjoy, wrestling promotions with which I used to help...and they have to be unique. I hate to sound "hipster" but if the design is "what all the kids are wearing nowadays," then I'm likely to pass it up. But that's me.

The awesome folks at T-Shirt Bordello recently sent me packages full of joy, including a few bonuses on top of the outstanding-quality t-shirts. The shirts themselves are as comfortable as I expected, and I chose two designs that indeed represented me. One, I'm sure you'd have no trouble guessing why I got it - yes, I extended my WGON t-shirt collection with a black one that has the familiar logo with the words "news, weather, traffic" below it. The other is a Zombieland reference, a black shirt with Rule #32 explained across the front.

Now, T-Shirt Bordello doesn't just deal in shirts. You can order mugs, ashtrays, hats, pint glasses, and keychains, as well as zombie-specific police tape. They gave me a little sample of the tape as well as a zombie "emergency" poster and some handy zombie targets to test the apocalypse survivor's aiming skills.

The targets.

The sweet poster.

The police tape.

Good stuff over there at T-Shirt Bordello. Some nice shirts I'm sure to pick up in the future, as well as a swank Winchester Tavern pint glass for when I eventually build my bar in the den I'll eventually have.

Check 'em out!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The House By The Cemetery (1981) House-Sitting, Fulci Style

I always know with Lucio Fulci, I'm getting both the expected and the unexpected.

Fulci will always bring the weird, the technicolor-bloody, and quite often, some kind of eye trauma. I know I'm going to get atmosphere, perfect lighting (or perfect lack of), and a spooky soundtrack with slithering electronic sounds. But I never know exactly how Fulci is going to bring it to me. He might bring buckets and buckets of stomach-churning gore, like he did in City of the Living Dead. He might go with a bleak, atmospheric mind-twister like The Beyond (which was pretty gory in its own right).

With 1981's The House By The Cemetery, Fulci didn't disappoint in either the atmosphere or the gore factor. While not as in-your-face with the blood and guts like in the other two films I mentioned, Fulci doesn't short the viewer on mood and ambiance. There is that familiar feeling of dread, that itch that makes you want to look under your own bed for some monstrous Fulci creation that wants to eat your soft bits in order to live an unholy long life of some sort. While some of his other films like the aforementioned The Beyond and City of the Living Dead, as well as Zombi 2, get more attention, The House By The Cemetery is a little gem that deserves a piece of that attention pie.

Here, you've got a prologue featuring a woman wandering an abandoned house, searching for her previously amorous boyfriend before running afoul of a mysterious, knife-wielding person, who performs amateur acupuncture on her head before dragging her off. Cut to a little girl crying out a warning from a window in said house, seen in a photograph by little Bob (whose dubbed voice is...well, you have to hear it to appreciate it). Bob and his family, college professor Norman and his wife Lucy (Fulci regular Catriona MacColl), are in the process of moving into that same house. Seems Norman had a colleague who killed himself while living there, and he's going to finish the research project.

Moving in is easy, but weird. The townspeople seem to recognize Norman, no one wants to acknowledge who previously owned the house (a kooky doctor named Freudstein), and Bob makes friends with the little girl from the picture, Mae, who may or may not be a ghost. Even the babysitter (Ania Pieroni, the foxy Mother of Tears from Dario Argento's Inferno) is a little bit of an oddball. The house itself isn't much help either. There's a tombstone laid into the floor in one room, for crying out loud. Tell me that wouldn't put you off just a tad.

Upon investigating the previously nailed-shut basement (thanks for opening it, babysitter), the family is attacked by a very bite-y bat and that ends up being the guano that breaks the camel's back as Norman insists to the realtor that he wants his family moved to a different house. When the realtor visits later, she's attacked by the stabby guy from the prologue, only he uses a fireplace poker to give her an unwanted tracheotomy.

After dutifully cleaning up the blood, the babysitter's head is soon separated from her body while in the basement. It's around this time that Norman finds out a little more about this Doctor Freudstein, who conducted some funky experiments. Funky as in painful, deadly, and illegal. Bob takes it upon himself to go search for the babysitter in the basement, but meets Dr. Freudstein and despite Norman's best attempt at an axe-aided rescue, is carried off by the strange doctor. Turns out the doc has been "living" in the basement for some 150 years or so, killing people and using their parts to keep himself alive. That is, if his present state of half-decay is considered "alive." Norman and Lucy descend into the basement to save Bob, but are each killed by Freudstein. Bob makes it out in the nick of time, thanks to Mae, who accompanies him along with the spirit of Mrs. Fruedstein into an uncertain, but probably very bleak future.

Fulci relies much more on atmosphere in this one, but all you sickies out there will be pleased with the bat biting, head stabbing, neck poking, and maggot pouring the director throws into the mix. The creepy sounds, ghost appearances, and who's-there shadow play will satisfy the horror mood lovers out there. If you like Fulci, I don't doubt you'll like The House By The Cemetery. Made in the same vein as his "buildings on the gates of Hell" films, it's not in the same canon as those movies, but just like them, the menace hides and does its most terrifying work in a subterranean area. Fulci may hate eyes in some of his films, but he does love himself some spooky underground rooms and basements.

If you're looking to start watching Italian horror movies, you can do much worse than The House By The Cemetery. It's not the top of my own list, but it's definitely worth a look.

So, my fellow survivors, just remember: read the fine print next time you rent an old house. Trust me on this.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Double Dipping: Friday the 13th and Pirnaha (The Remakes)

I seem to be steeped in remakes right about now. Last week, I presented my thoughts on the very good Let Me In - a remake of Let The Right One In - and today, I bring you not one but two looks at recent remakes: 2009's relaunch of the Friday the 13th franchise, and 2010's jaunty remake of Joe Dante's Piranha. Both movies are modern updates of two drive-in-style features from roughly the same period in time, with the original Piranha coming out in 1978 (a great year for horror movies) and Friday the 13th coming out in 1980. Both had their fair share of energy and a certain freshness, which brings about mixed results with their younger descendants.

Let's start with Friday the 13th, originally brought to us in 1980 by Sean S. Cunningham (with writing credits going to Victor Miller). It was a campfire tale brought to life: young, pretty, devil-may-care camp counselors are systematically murdered by the mother of a child that drowned several years before. Boil the story down to its essence, and it truly is one of those flashlight-under-the-chin spooky stories that have been told for generations. In the original, it's given a fleshed-out story, and if anyone remembers, the killer juggernaut Jason Voorhees was not in the first movie, at least not as a the horror icon. He didn't appear until the second film (which I actually find to be the better one).

2009's version, produced by Michael Bay and directed by Marcus Nispel, starts where the original ends: unhinged old lady tries to murder the last teenage counselor, but is given the business end of a machete. Like the beginning of the second film in the 80's, we learn Jason witnessed his beloved but insane mother bite the dust, or mud in this case. Many years later, he takes out his deep-rooted psychological problems on an admittedly annoying group of pretty post-teens out near Camp Crystal Lake geocaching for a secret garden of Mary Jane. A few weeks later, another group of pretty college students heads to the summer home of one of their number and meets Clay (Jared Padalecki of TV's Supernatural), who is still searching for his missing sister, Whitney (Amanda Righetti). Turns out Whitney wasn't killed by Jason in the beginning, as he spared her due to her resemblence to his mother - but he still keeps her chained up in an underground tunnel. It doesn't take long for Jason to start doing his thing to the new group, dispatching them in brutal ways before being defeated by Clay and Whitney in a classically ambiguous ending.

While this remake isn't horrible, I wasn't overly impressed with it either. It's somewhat entertaining, but doesn't have the wild abandon that the original series - despite its shortcomings - possessed. An intriguing change is the no-nonsense body language of Jason. He doesn't lurk for long, instead coming right at victims like a raging hockey-masked rhino. The only time he really "lurks" is when he's stalking Chelsea (Willa Ford) on the lake, and that's just because she's in the water and he's not, which subtly plays into his probable fear of water. It's in the mythology that he was presumed drowned, or was damaged by prolonged time in the water. Anyway, the movie itself was a quarter-pounder, good enough to snack on, but not great as a meal.

Trying to segue deftly from the food analogy of my previous paragraph, I give you Alexandre Aja's Piranha (usually with "3-D" attached to the end), which was a whole different experience. It's based loosely on Joe Dante's (Gremlins) film of the same name, which in itself was a loose sendup of Jaws. Lending itself to the recent trend of homaging grindhouse films, Piranha doesn't have any illusions about itself: it's got boobies and gore, and lots of them, combined with silly lines and situations, and WTF-style cameos that make you say, "wait, he's in this?" I mean, seriously, it's such a rollicking cast. You've got Elizabeth Shue, Ving Rhames, Jerry O'Connell, Paul Scheer, Adam Scott, Ricardo Chavira, Dina Meyer, Richard Dreyfuss, Christopher Lloyd, a couple of genuine porn stars, and a cameo by horror director Eli Roth. It's like one of those Airport movies of the 70's. Only with hungry fish.

It's another basic plot: we meet a fisherman (Dreyfuss) who may or may not have triggered a deep tremor by losing his beer bottle while hauling in a fish. The tremor opens up a vast underground lake that's been covered up since the time of the dinosaurs. Out come the fish and of course, it's spring break time in this sleepy little Arizona town. That means a steady diet of alcohol-infused dudes and chesty trollops, along with a few people who don't even deserve it. There is family drama involved as the sheriff (Shue) not only has to deal with the massive carnage at the center of the festivities (which results in a few yuks, both gory and funny) but has to rescue her kids and some others, who are trapped on a porn mogul's (O'Connell) boat. There is, of course, the "gotcha" ending and many 3-D-ready tricks that were pretty much lost on me, watching it in good ol' 2-D.

Piranha is a wacky, toothy good time. Check your brain at the door; you won't need it. And every so often, what's wrong with watching a movie like that? It didn't say, "oooh, look at me, I'm all serious with my mean fish and artsy nudes." No, it said something more along the lines of "dude, check this out and here, pull my finger." It moves along quickly, no one seems to be safe, and you get to see Elizabeth Shue be an action heroine. A movie made just to be fun wink and nod to movies from the tail-end of the grindhouse era. Well, how about that.

And hey, fun fact: the original Piranha had a goofy sequel, Piranha II: The Spawning featuring piranhas that could fly. That film's director, making his feature film debut?

James Cameron.

Until next time, fellow survivors, it's back to the chopper for me.