Sunday, August 27, 2017

RIP: Tobe Hooper

Christ, it seems like I'm writing a lot of these lately. Woke up to people praising the work of Tobe Hooper and I thought maybe he got a new film out that was particularly good, which seemed to be a rarity for him lately as nothing seemed to measure up to his early work. Sadly, that was not to be the case, as it turned out that Mr. Hooper had passed away.

In case you aren't familiar with him, Tobe Hooper was the director of the masterful Texas Chainsaw Massacre and and Poltergeist, as well as a slew of other minor classics (Lifeforce, TCM2, Funhouse) and some that are probably better off not mentioned at all. Oh yeah, he also directed Salem's Lot and scarred my young self for quite some time with his nightmarish interpretation of Barlow.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre in particular is one of my favorites, and for good reason. The movie is a case study in fear. Despite the implications such a title would bring, the movie is very much light on gore, instead trading it for an escalating series of events that become even more harrowing until at the very end, just like the main character, we are gasping to catch our breath after leaving the madness behind. Hooper wisely didn't bog down the movie with blood that might have repulsed which helped to keep your attention on the screen and the horrors occurring on it. If you haven't seen it before you should, because you won't be disappointed.

In contrast, the first sequel (and only one directed by him), is an absolute madcap romp that trades the scares and tension of the first for a feverish lunacy that starts with a chainsaw attack on a bridge and a radio station invasion and just gets more insane from there. In other words, it is a blast.

It's a shame that in his later years, Hopper never had another big hit, though some like Mortuary and The Toolbox Murders showed some promise before ultimately falling short of reaching the heights of films like TCM and Poltergeist. Still, they were entertaining and never made me regret giving them a chance.

Let's fire up the chainsaw one last time in salute.


Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Review: Colossal

When it comes to getting me interested in a movie, almost all you have to do is have a giant monster show up. Then you add the amazingly talented Anne Hathaway (who I've been a fan of for years) to the mix? Why, you most assuredly have my money.

Well, you would have if Colossal actually played anywhere near me. Grumble, grumble.

So I had to wait for the movie to release on DVD to see all of this goodness and inject it right into my veins. Was it worth it?

Hell yes it was.

Without getting too spoilery and running some of the great reviews, here it is in a nutshell. Anne Hathaway plays Gloria, a party girl who is out of work and, thanks to coming home mid-morning one too many times, gets kicked out of her apartment by her boyfriend (Dan Stevens) and is forced to move back to the small town she grew up in. There she meets an old friend (Jason Sudeikis) and discovers something strange and wonderful on a drunken walk home through a park.

At 8:05 every day, if Gloria stands in a certain part of the park, she can make a monster appear across the world in South Korea and control it. Now Gloria has to figure out what she can do with this power without hurting anyone and sort out her own life in the process.

Colossal is simply amazing. I wasn't quite sure what to expect going in, knowing only a bit from the trailer that Gloria can control the monster. Indeed, the whole things starts off much like a standard romantic comedy and then spirals into something completely different that will keep you guessing the entire way. The movie is admittedly light on kaiju action, but what there is of it works like gangbusters, especially the gravity that comes with it in particular scenes. The monster designs are unique and well-realized and I wouldn't mind getting an action figure of it. Hathaway and Sudeikis are at the top of their game here, and the tension mounts and sparks fly when these two get to play off of each other and it is an absolute treat to watch.

It may not be on the level of a Kong: Skull Island in terms of kaiju action, but Colossal stands above a lot of those films with wonderful performances and a strong message that resonates with you long after the movie has ended.

Check it out.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

RIP: Haruo Nakajima

There are few things in my life that have influenced me more than Godzilla. Over the years, they've been there for me. On rainy days, on sunny days, on Thanksgivings and Turkey Days and on days when I just needed a pick me up. Even more recently, the movies have been there for me and my daughter to watch and to bond over.

Of course, besides the titular character, there was another link--Haruo Nakajima, the man inside the suit and the original Godzilla actor. Here was a man who did more than just act, t hough. He brought monsters to life, wearing suits that weighed a ton and were damn uncomfortable and hot to boot. But he wore them proudly and as such, was considered the best Godzilla suit actor by many, including myself, but most importantly, by the other people he worked with making the films like special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya. Thus, it is no surprise that the latter tapped Nakajima to work playing monsters in Tsuburaya Productions own series, Ultraman and Ultraseven. In total, he played Godzilla 12 times and numerous other monsters throughout his career.

Several years ago, I got the rare chance to meet this legend. It was at the Chiller Theatre convention in Parsippany where he was appearing with two other suit actors, Kenpachiro Satsuma and Tsutomu Kitagawa. The line was long and the wait equally so, but it was worth it to talk to Mr. Nakajima for a few minutes and tell him how much joy his pictures had brought to people. He thanked me and we posed for a picture and then I moved on while he continued to greet fans with an energy and enthusiasm for the rest of the day that I can only hope to have when I am in my later years.

It is a legacy of fantastic monster films that Haruo Nakajima leaves us and the memory of a kind and wonderful man. Watch these movies and celebrate the life of the King of the Monsters himself.

Rest in peace.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Summer of Ska: The Mighty Mighty Bosstones

Let's Face It, the Bosstones rock.
 The summer of ska continues (and probably ends, really, unless I go to another show), this time with Fast Choker and Mixmaster coming along to go and see the Mighty Mighty Bosstones (MMBT) at the Starland Ballroom.

The Bosstones are one of those bands that has been around seemingly forever, and for good reason--they are pretty damn awesome. I remember hearing "Where Did You Go?" back in high school and liking it a lot, but it wasn't until the release of Let's Face It in 1997 that they really caught my interest. I'd say that album was one of the most played of the year on our floor in the dorm. Indeed, 3rd wave ska was very much alive and adored in the Dungeon of East Ambler Johnston.
It was a devil's night out.

Get those hands in the air!
I think it was that same summer that we saw them on the Warped Tour, along with just about every band we liked. That year was ridiculously stacked and we spent our time running from stage to stage to see all of the bands. Seeing MMBT live was one of those things that cemented in my mind how good they were. Their sound comes together in such a full and refreshing way that reminds me of the big band sound of the jazz musicians I studied in school. That energy was passed on to the fans, who danced and skanked their way through song after song. It was great.

That was the only time I had seen them until the opportunity arose to go this weekend with a couple of friends and reclaim that magic of our own youth. I'm happy to say that the best dressed band around (seriously, their suit game is on point) hasn't lost a step at all and in fact are even more put together and impressive than when I saw them 20 years ago. In fact, they were even playing Let's Face It in its entirety as part of an anniversary tour. All of those songs came rushing back to my mind and I found myself singing along as I danced my face off. No more pits for me, though. I leave that to the professionals like Choker and Mix.

After finishing up that album (which includes one of my faves, "The Impression That I Get"), they went on to play some of their other hits and fan favorites from over the years, including "They Will Need Music," which is almost transcendentally inspirational when you hear it live. It's just that good. Did we reclaim a little bit of our youth that night? I think so, though you definitely feel a night out like this in your bones the next day when the morning hits you. It was a grand time and I'm glad I got to listen to some great music with my best friends.

For the full set list, click here.

PS: We also got to see Mephiskaphiles, who I haven't seen in 20 years either. Still awesome. Also, the other opening act, Backyard Superheroes were pretty damn good too. Love seeing a local band kick ass like that, especially when they rock two saxophones.