Shape Shifting Aliens in the Snow.
Imagine fighting a shape shifting alien while not knowing whether the people around you were friends or foes. Now imagine experiencing this life or death struggle in the snow. This is what John Carpenter’s The Thing presents to the audience.
The Thing works well as a horror movie with its shape shifting alien that inhabits the bodies of its victims. The sense of fear that runs through the movie is due, in large part, to the paranoia caused by not knowing who the alien has infected. But Carpenter’s use of the snowy landscape of Antarctica adds a visceral element to the horror story. The hostile environment created by the snow and cold adds a level of conflict (man v. nature) that any viewer who has experienced a harsh winter can relate to. Viewers have never faced off against a shape shifting alien but many have experienced snowy days when temperatures dipped into negative digits.
The snow and the cold of The Thing intensify the harsh experiences the characters endure while fighting a shape shifting alien. Carpenter’s use of snow and cold also provide a visceral connection for viewers who have experienced harsh winters. We may have to imagine shape shifting aliens but harsh winters are all too real (especially for those of us in the Midwest).
The Thing (1982) starring Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, and Keith David. Directed by John Carpenter.
Three Views of the Zombie Phenomenon
I’m about done with zombies. There are too damn many zombie movies, zombie TV shows, zombie video games, zombie bumper stickers, and zombie fuck all else these days. I have avoided zombie inspired movies and such this Halloween season for that very reason. When I saw the movie White Zombie on one of my channels last night I glossed over it. It wasn’t until I noticed that it was released in 1932 that I became moderately interested. I decided to give it a view simply because nothing else seemed more appealing (I know that’s not a sound reason to watch a movie but there it is).
I watched White Zombie with no specific expectations. All I did was try to put myself in the mindset to appreciate a movie from that time period. I must say that after one viewing (and it is a movie that I intend to view again) it is a solid movie. What I found most interesting about the movie is it got me thinking about my view of zombies. I grew up with George A. Romero zombies and to this day I will argue that his zombie movies are some of the best. But White Zombie is not in the style of a Romero movie. This movie is more in the style of a Wes Craven movie inspired by Wade Davis’ book, The Serpent and the Rainbow.
The Serpent and the Rainbow, both movie and book share the same name, focuses on the zombie phenomenon. I saw the movie first and it put a serious scare on me (Wes Craven usually does). It also left enough of an impact that I picked up a used copy of Davis’ book a few years later. Davis’ book is an engaging text that addresses the concept of zombies from both cultural and scientific viewpoints. Craven’s movie can best be described as an artistic interpretation that obviously lends itself more to horror than science, but Craven doesn’t exclude science in the attempt to scare the viewer. Victor Halperin’s White Zombie does the same. It has the elements of a classic horror movie (it is a must view if you are a fan of Bela Lugosi), and it also has a few scenes that attempt to provide a scientific reason, albeit thin, for the existence of zombies. This scientific element provides a perspective that makes both movies and the book worth your time.
Zombies are so commonplace in the horror genre today that they are bordering on cliché. In order to find some scary zombies it may be best to travel back to the 1980s for The Serpent and the Rainbow and the 1930s for White Zombie. What makes these selections scary is the sense of what could possibly happen no matter how improbable it seems, and this is what a good scare is.
White Zombie (1932) directed by Victor Halerpin starring Bela Lugosi and Madge Bellamy
The Serpent and the Rainbow (1985) by Wade Davis
The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) directed by Wes Craven starring Bill Pullman and Cathy Tyson
Reenactment and Catharsis
John Steinbeck explains why veterans often do not discuss their combat experiences in “Why Soldiers Won’t Talk.” Mike Attie and Meghan O’Hara explore a similar topic in the film In Country. Attie and O’Hara follow a group of men over the course of a weekend as the reenact Vietnam War era patrols, ambushes, and fire fights. The documentary isn’t as much a look into the world of reenacting as it is a look into the mind of the combat veteran.
Several of the participants in the reenactment are veterans of the wars in Vietnam and Iraq. The audience is given some insights as to why these men who have experienced war first hand would want to reenact combat. One reenactor, a former soldier of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, states that he feels “whole” and “stronger” when he is with his fellow reenactors. Another reenactor, a veteran of the war in Iraq, discusses how the military philosophy of adapt and overcome desensitized him to feeling core emotions. The audience is left to infer that by reenacting with fellow veterans he is seeking to find part of what he left on the battlefield. All of veterans who reenact give varied reasons why they participate but each man is searching for something.
One of more poignant moments of the film is a piece of archival footage from Vietnam. A reporter asks a soldier, “You think you will ever be able to forget it?” The soldier replies, “No, I won’t.” This may be at the heart of the reason why these men chose to reenact. Steinbeck states that some men experience a form of amnesia that causes them to forget combat and this is why they won’t talk about it. Mike Attie and Meghan O’Hara show us many veterans remember combat all too well and that reenacting may be a way to address and cope with those memories.
In Country (2015) directed by Mike Attie and Meghan O’Hara.
Doing the Impossible
Are you familiar with 24 Hour Comic Day (if you are then skip a few sentences)? Scott McClould came up with the idea in 1990. The premise is pretty straight forward; create a 24 page comic book, from idea to completion, in 24 hours. 24 Hour Comic Book Day was officially established in 2004, and since then creators gather once a year to take up the challenge. Milan Erceg’s documentary 24 Hour Comic follows one group of creators in Portland during the allotted 24 hour time frame. Erceg’s film is both inspirational and sobering in its presentation of comic book creators and their books
Erceg follows a varied group of eight comic book creators in his documentary. They range from a thirteen year old attempting her first 24 Hour Comic challenge to her father who is participating in his sixteenth challenge and several other creators with a variety of 24 Hour Comic Day experiences. The film provides both background and motivation for each of the creators. Erceg also incorporates interviews with individuals familiar with the comic book industry who provide insight into the challenges of creating and publishing comic books.
Watching these eight creators in action is quite an inspirational experience. Erceg provides insight into the creators’ minds and what each hopes to achieve. Their creative processes are laid out for the audience to see and you can’t help but feel motivated. But the movie is also sobering in its presentation of how difficult it is to be successful as a comic book creator. Erceg informs the audience that illustrators, on average, make more than comic book creators. This statistic is reinforced in a few of the interviews with the creators at the 24 Hour Comic Day. The viewer can’t help but ask his or herself, “Do I do what I love or do I do what will pay?”
24 Hour Comic is worth a watch for anyone interested in the creative process that goes into creating a comic book from idea to completion. Erceg’s documentary is also a realistic observation that addresses how difficult it is to make a living creating comic books. Scott McCloud says that 24 Hour Comic Day is, “Asking yourself to do the impossible and then doing it.” That quote may be in reference to 24 Hour Comic Day, but it could also be applied to making a living creating comic books.
24 Hour Comic (2017). Directed by Milan Erceg
or Why Kevin Costner Baseball Movies are about More than Baseball
The best baseball movies are seldom just about baseball. Baseball may serve as a setting or a plot device, but the story itself is about something more than baseball. Field of Dreams (which, by the title, is not what this article is about) isn’t about baseball as much as it is about fathers and sons. Everybody who has seen Field of Dreams remembers the game of catch at the end. A movie that isn’t such a clear example is Bull Durham from 1988. Bull Durham is more than a movie about minor league baseball and the desire to play in the show. It is a movie about having faith in yourself and the willingness to accept help from others.
The movie centers around three central characters. Ebby Calvin ‘Nuke’ LaLoosh, played by Tim Robbins, is a hot headed young phenomenon of a pitcher with the talent to play in the show. Unfortunately, ‘Nuke’ LaLoosh does not have the proper mental toughness required to play at the major league level. Enter Crash Davis, played by Kevin Costner (Costner does have a few exceptional baseball movies out there), a catcher with twelve years of minor league experience. Crash is called upon to teach ‘Nuke’ the ins and outs of the game of baseball, to get him ready to pitch in the show. This dynamic is best summed up when Crash says, “I got the brains, you got the talent,” when talking to ‘Nuke.’ The third character is Annie Savoy, played by Susan Sarandon, a woman who knows more about baseball than most coaches. Annie dedicates herself both sexually and emotionally to one player each season in order to help him develop as a ball player and as a person. Picture a sort of a muse for baseball players (there is a funny line about fucking and poetry in the movie). Each of these characters has faith in who they are as individuals but they need the help of the others to achieve their true potential. Throughout the course of the movie each learns to accept help from the others.
Most people who are not fans of baseball tend to cringe when they hear of a movie that centers on the game (Field of Dreams is probably the only exception to that rule). But most baseball movies are about so much more than baseball. Yes, Bull Durham is movie about a minor league baseball team, the Durham Bulls. It is also a movie about three people who realize that in order to achieve their goals they must not only have faith in themselves but must also accept help from others. Not bad for a movie that most people think is just about a game.
Bull Durham starring Kevin Costner, Tim Robbins, and Susan Sarandon. Directed by Ron Shelton.
An Obligation to Assist Veterans
One given with all wars is that soldiers, victorious or vanquished, come home from them. William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives tells the story of three World War II veterans and the difficulties they face after returning home. Seventy years later the adjustment back into civilian life has not changed much and is just as difficult. Wyler’s movie is required viewing for anybody who wants to develop a better understanding of the difficulties returning veterans face.
The veterans of The Best Years of Our Lives face a variety of difficulties such as physical disabilities, post-traumatic stress disorder, and feelings of isolation. Throughout the course of the movie these men struggle to readjust to civilian life often resorting to alcohol and distancing themselves from those who care. With the assistance of family, fellow veterans, and purposeful work these men are able to make successful transitions into civilian life.
Seventy years later returning veterans face same difficulties as the characters in Wyler’s movie. Seventy years later returning veterans struggle to readjust to civilian life in the same way as the characters of The Best Years of Their Lives. Seventy years later out returning veterans deserve more.
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) with Myrna Loy, Fredrich March, Dana Andrews, and Harold Russell. Directed by William Wyler.
Or Why I Think You Should Watch Hard Rain
Have you ever watched a movie that played out exactly the way you thought it would? Have you ever watched a movie with a simple plot, no dramatic reveals, and characters with very little development? Hard Rain from 1998 fits the bill, and you need to get on the interwebs and stream it posthaste if you haven’t seen it. Why? Because, sometimes it’s good to crack a beer, pour a bowl of flaming hots, and have some fun watching a predictable flick.
I’m not going to bother with any sort of critical analysis of Hard Rain. For those interested in a critical analysis I have two words for you, Morgan Freeman. Morgan Freeman has said in interviews that people shouldn’t bother watching this movie, but who wants to pass up a chance to see Morgan Freeman playing an outlaw (wearing a cowboy hat and sporting an earring)? But maybe you think, -I’m going to listen to Morgan Freeman and pass.- I politely disagree with Mr. Freeman’s recommendation, and I have two words for those who agree with him, Christian Slater. Hard Rain has the lead actor from True Romance. Maybe you haven’t seen True Romance (or 3000 Miles to Graceland). If that’s the case I have two words for you, Randy Quaid. This movie has the alien ass kicker from Independence Day (maybe you know him better as Cousin Eddie). If you’re not a fan of Randy Quaid I have two words for you, Minnie Driver. Hard Rain has Grosse Pointe Blank’s Minnie Driver and she’s British. Maybe you haven’t seen Grosse Pointe Blank or maybe you have something against the British. I have two last words for you, Betty White. ‘Nuff said.
Movies with complex plots and dramatic reveals can be wonderful viewing experiences. In depth character studies can add layers to already incredible films. But sometimes you may be in the mood for a movie that’s simple popcorn fun. If you are looking for a movie with lots of rain, a fair amount of gun play, and something that isn’t too cerebral then Hard Rain is worth a watch.
Hard Rain (1998) with Morgan Freeman, Christian Slater, Randy Quaid, Minnie Driver, and Betty White. Directed by Michael Salomon.