Jul 30, 2012

100 Favorite Movies (100-091)

Ah, the nerdish beauty of a big list!

First of all, a big shout out to my friend Alan Bain. He started this one. He sleeps about as much as I do so, he has to find ways to fill in the insomnia hours. He sent me his Top 100 and thus the debate was started.

Secondly, feel free to offer comment and critique but know that I'm RIGHT and you're WRONG...or I just forgot one.

And Thirdly, and maybe most importantly, this list is not about critical darlings or most important movies ever, just my FAVORITE movies. They're not in a particular order but I've tried to keep them in the ballpark of where they would lie if I thought harder about it.  The top 3 are separated by the thinest of slivers...but that's later.

Let's start at 100 and work our way back...

100  POLTERGEIST (1982) - Yeah I said it! Without apology, I put forward Poltergeist as one of my favorites simply because I have enjoyed this movie since the first time I saw it. A wonderfully likable cast (including the diminutive scene stealing Zelda Rubinstein as Tangina), fantastic special effects, great music and some genuinely creepy and well shot moments make this movie a perfect Saturday night on the sofa movie. This is one of those movies I will sit down and watch every time its shows up on the box. BEST SCENE: Tiny, blonde headed Carol Anne is awoken by the strobing, static filled television. She crawls out of her parents' bed towards the whispering she can hear. Bright spots flash on the screen and then a ghostly hand darts out at her. As she watches, smoky tendrils snake out of the screen and into the air around her and then a supernatural beam of light blasts into the wall. The room shakes, waking her parents and little brother from their sleep. Carol Anne standing at the foot of their bed offers only two words: "They're here."

099  REBECCA (1940) - What happened to all the good mystery movies? Back in the day they handled them with aplomb. Here's one of the best. A new wife living in a big house is troubled to find out that the previous wife, the titular Rebecca, died in an accident. Her husband is troubled by her memory. And then there's the loyal house staff headed up by Mrs Danvers who is decidedly cold towards the new Mrs DeWinter. And then there's the small matter of the accident...

098  UNBREAKABLE (2000) - Before M. Night Shyamalan decided he was put on the earth to share his profound gift of making the "BEST MOVIES EVER(tm)", (and if we didn't like them we could suck it), he directed a pair of truly great films. The Sixth Sense (see later) and Unbreakable. Bruce Willis survives a train crash and then starts to discover he's not like normal men - he has special abilities. Helping him figure out his gifts is Samuel L. Jackson (rocking a Gumby-Fro), a comic book fan who seems to know better than Willis where his particular destiny lies. This movie is a comic book geek's dream, filled with knowing winks but tackling the themes with an intelligence and patience not often afforded superhero movies. And make no bones about it, this is a great comic book movie...about a superhero, told by a writer/director who hadn't yet come to believe his own press.

097  THE GIFT (2000) - A lot of people missed this when it blew through and I think that's a shame. Cate Blanchett plays Annie, a single mom, eking out a living in a small town reading tarot cards for the locals. When a young woman disappears, Annie starts to have visions of the young woman and she tries to help uncover what happened to her. Artfully directed by Sam Raimi (Spiderman, The Evil Dead), The Gift was written by none other than Billy Bob Thornton with the character of Annie based loosely on his own mother. The cast is superb from top to bottom with Hilary Swank playing a beaten wife, Keanu Reeves (surprsingly effective) as Hilary's angry husband, Katie Holmes as the missing woman, Greg Kinnear as the distraught fiancĂ© and the superlative Giovanni Ribisi as Buddy. Ribisi steals every scene he's in and his character arc is the most startling in the movie. BEST SCENE: There are numerous wonderfully crafted scenes but when Buddy (Ribisi) sees one of Annie's kids being approached by Reeves' violent character in his truck his explosive reaction is fantastic.

096  STRANGE DAYS (1995) - I don't know many people outside of myself who enjoys this movie. Its a mess. I think its a glorious mess though. Set at the turn of the Millennium it follows a seedy former cop called Lenny Nero trying to hustle his way through life and accidentally uncovering police corruption which may spark a riot at the turn of the century. What makes this movie work for me is the first rate cast, the direction and, despite the flaws, the intriguing screenplay. Ralph Fiennes plays the former cop Lenny, and Angela Bassett plays his friend and oftentimes ass-kicking bodyguard Mace. (Excuse me while I have a wee crush on Angela Bassett). The cast is rounded out by a who's who of well known faces: Juliette Lewis, Tom Sizemore, Vincent D'Onofrio, William Fichtner and Michael Wincott. Its directed with great flair by the future ex-Mrs James Cameron, Kathryn Bigelow (Point Break; The Hurt Locker) - the opening POV robbery scene is startling  - and written by the future ex-Mr Kathryn Bigelow, James Cameron - at his best writing for Bassett and Fiennes. The ideas and the characters are fascinating although they've been assembled in a disjointed fashion but I'll watch this movie EVERY time I see it on the television. Love me some Mace. GEEK NOTE: Angela Bassett should've played Storm in the X-Men movies. End of story.

095  GONE BABY GONE (2007) - Ben Affleck, struggling to get back any kind of credibility after a string of cheesy movie roles and the tabloid hogging JLo relationship, did the right thing - he walked away. When he would appear in a movie it wasn't with fanfare and in fact HOLLYWOODLAND proved that he still had life in him as an actor. However, he wanted to direct and that, as it turned out, was a great move. Affleck is a smart guy, generally speaking, so it was no surprise he stuck to what he knew. He used a story set in his home town so he could film in places he knew well and he cast his little brother in the lead. Casey Affleck gives a great performance and I have no doubt his short-hand with his brother helped a lot. On top of that, Affleck filled out his cast with heavy hitters like Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman and even filmed ordinary Bean-Towners going about their business adding some great textures to the movie. The stand out though is Amy Ryan, a revelation as the missing child's mother. Affleck's direction is sure-handed and he proved he's a very gifted director. A very enjoyable directorial debut.

094  WATERSHIP DOWN (1978) – A group of rabbits flee their home after the littlest of them, Fiver, foresees the destruction of their warren. The story then follows them on their hazardous trek to find a new home. Based on the book and beautifully animated, Watership Down is a movie I have no problem admitting that I love. The filmakers never took the easy or cute option, often delving into deep and dark imagery, like Fiver's visions, and never shying away from the brutality of the world around the small group. Their encounters with hawks, snares, farmers, poisoned warrens and the vicious General Woundwort makes their journey a harrowing one and the rewards more sweet. The movie features wonderful music including the song "Bright Eyes" sung with angelic grace by Art Garfunkel. If it doesn't cause a lump to appear in your throat you need to go check into a hospital for a heart transplant. The opening sequence, with the Prince of Rabbits: El-ahrairah, is one of my favourite little legends. Love it. So wonderfully written and it has a distinctive animation style from the rest of the movie. The narration by Michael Hordern is fantastic: “All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies. And when they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you; digger, listener, runner, Prince with the swift warning. Be cunning, and full of tricks, and your people will never be destroyed.”

093  MASTER AND COMMANDER: FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD (2003) - Here's a Russell Crowe movie you probably wouldn't have expected on this list! And I must admit it wouldn't be on here if I hadn't caught it on cable about three nights ago. Typically, movies set at sea are a financial washout. Titanic and Jack Sparrow are the only times this has been disproven and those were gigantic successes. The flipside of that is that every other movie with a ship in it has bombed...HARD. And so it was with this one. Initially expected to become a franchise for Crowe, since it was based on a series of books, it sank without trace and that's a great pity. Directed by Peter Wier, this is a great adventure story set during the Napoleonic Wars and follows the crew of the SURPRISE as they track a French ship around South America. It's highly entertaining fare which drips with heavy doses of sobering realism. The sight of the cannonballs blasting the Surprise to smithereens is startling, and watching the ship's doctor (Paul Bettany) slipping on the blood of one of his patients and demanding "more sand" to give his shoes grip is eye opening. Beneath decks is just a flurry of movement, men loading cannons, men pumping water, men trying to patch holes in the hull. And there's also boys, barely teens, as junior officers, boldly going about their business as well. Its frenetic, fast paced and exciting. Music also plays a part int he story, with Crowe and Bettany playing string duets on their downtime. The soundtrack has other good moments, the best of which is the rhythmic "Into the Fog" which sounds the ships retreat into a fogbank to hide from their superior enemy. What lets the movie down is the flabby middle section as the ship makes repairs. This shouldn't dissuade you from giving this movie a try. GEEK NOTE: The cast actually spent time in a sort of naval bootcamp learning what it would be like to be on board one of those old ships.

092  THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN (1971) - I'm a big fan of Michael Crichton's books but I saw this movie before I really knew who Crichton was. A germ from space wipes out an entire town except for an old man and a tiny baby. Its a mystery. So, the powers-that-be assemble a group of four smart scientists and put them to work in their secret underground facility to figure out the problem before it spreads. Now showing its age, in terms of technology, the story still has some very prescient points as a lot of Crichton's stuff tends to do. His fascination with technology and scientific advances lends a great deal of credence to the terrifying scenario in the story...a big What If??? The soundtrack is peppered with electronic sounds which add to the tension (a staple of 70's thrillers and science fiction movies) and although it probably moves at a more pedestrian pace than most moviegoers would appreciate, the story is worth it...in my opinion. Failing that...go read the book.

091  ROBOCOP (1987) - This movie is not what you think it is. It looks like an action movie with a heavy sci-fi slant but its actually a sly satire and an action movie. The title: Robocop, sounds like it was conjured up by the wags at the SyFy channel (Mansquito!) but its perfectly in keeping with the tone of the movie. The cop in question, Murphy, is played by Peter Weller who deserves a huge amount of credit for acting with half his face hidden and for the physical acting needed to portay half man, half machine. Weller also did a wonderful job with the voice, perfecting Robocop's emotionless monotone delivery and then later adding just the faintest hint of emotion. Who am I kidding though, at the heart of this movie is action and it delivers some great scenes including the initial shoot-out that leaves the cop Murphy (Weller) as good as dead and then the battle with the same gang at the end. Throughout there are jibes at consumerism, big business, man's hubris and of course greed. The movie is also set in Detroit which wouldn't normally be a first choice for an action, sci-fi, robo-centric movie but makes sense when you think about Detroit as the Mid-West's manufacturing heart and how that city is now suffering after the decline of the car industry. A great city now more well known for crime than cars or music. Hugely entertaining movie...shame about the sequels. GEEK NOTE: A remake is in the works with a fascinating cast being assembled, not least of which is the terrific Swedish born actor Joel Kinnaman in the lead role. For those who don't know him he starred in AMC's show The Killing playing Detective Holder. If that doesn't fill you with hope, the cast also includes Gary Oldman and Samuel L. Jackson so it may be an interesting remake.

There you go...the first dose. Only 90 to go. Stay tuned and feel free to comment.

Jul 13, 2012

I'll sleep when I'm dead...

You may have noticed that the frequency of my posts has severly diminished in the last few months. This isn't due to a lack of interest or even due to the fact I'm chained and trapped in the basement (help me, these chains are chafing...), instead it's entirely to do with my lousy time management skills.

I mean to improve in the coming weeks but I'm trying to squeeze 28 hours worth of stuff into a 24 hour day. So, I either figure out to change the rotation of the Earth (my early calculations relied on having Superman available - turns out he's not due to the filming of his new movie) or, give up sleeping entirely.

Luckily (?) for me, I don't need much sleep to operate. Sure, I shamble along like a zombie and frighten small children when I point at them and growl "Braaaaiiinzzz" but, my four hours a night doesn't seem to be effe....zzzzzzzz...


As you can see, my lack of sleep barely effects my writing performance. This is a great relief since I'm currently working on edits.

"Gus, what pray tell are you working on? And why didn't you just do it right the first time, that way you wouldn't have to spend so much time editing the damn thing later?" I hear you ask.

Well, allow me to answer. My current WIP (which all good writers know stands for...ummm...Writing Is Painful...or something...its not important...) is a story based on characters and story ideas from a time when cell phones were the size of a medium sized family car and the year 2000 was like some kind of weird science fiction concept. Obviously, the year 2000 was a great disappointment and has since been downgraded to mediocre status but, the stories based around the fictional world of Dynamo City remain relevant and interesting. And it felt like the right time to bust them out and let The World take a look at them.

Now, I understand the World is often too busy to check out my stuff so I fully intend on starting a quest to find an Agent to help me change the World's fickle mind. So that means querying (a lot) and having joint pain from aggresive finger crossing each time I send a letter out.

First though: edits. And to answer the second question I imagined you asking a few moments ago, I'd like to say that editing is a like having an annoying little kid slapping the back of your head with a sock full of tangerines, for hours and hours. That's it. I haven't figured out the upside yet. I'm sure it helps though and is important. Everyone says so.

Anyway, that's the immediate plan. It may all end in tears but as a wise person once said: "Please stop touching my hair!"

Wait, that's the wrong quote...what I meant to say was...


...I'll get back to you on that.