Tag: classic

Harold and Maude

Love can change your perspective. This is probably why vegetarians have the numbers they do. If you doubt this, date a vegetarian. When we fall in love, we hope it will be transformative. We hope our partner will not only open our eyes to new experiences but tear off the doors of perception. Only love can break your heart, and lift you up where you belong. Throughout history, a few love stories have made people want to leave red meat behind and embrace the new. Romeo and Juliet get all the attention but they were just shortsighted teenagers with poor decision making skills. If you are looking for a true love story; look no further than Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude.

Harold ( Bud Cort) is a young man obsessed with death. Maude (Ruth Gordon) is an old woman full of life. Together they are a force to be reckoned with. Harold is living under the thumb of his very controlling mother. To entertain himself he likes to go to funerals. It’s at a funeral where he meets Maude. She catches his eye when she steals the priest’s car. They soon become inseparable and Maude turns Harold’s world upside down.

I’m not going to give too much away about Harold and Maude. It is a movie that many people hold dear to their hearts – myself included. If you’ve seen it, then you may know what I’m talking about. It is the kind of movie that will make you drop everything and watch. If you are flipping through the channels and you hear Cat Steven’s fantastic soundtrack, you look no further. You may be a little tired the next day because you stayed up way too late watching it, but you’ll be reminded that love and art can be transformative.


Creature From the Black Lagoon and Them!

I don’t know what was in the water in 1954 but it sure was potent. It was the year Doris Day had a Secret Love, Bugs Bunny was mixing it up,  Alan Freed was coining the term ‘Rock n Roll’, and Jerry Seinfeld, Oprah Winfrey, Cindy Sherman, Jackie Chan, Matt Groening, and Joel Coen were being born.  Along with Godzilla, 1954 spawned two of the other greatest monster movies of all time: Creature From the Black Lagoon and Them!  This Halloween treat yourself to a little good old-fashioned rubber suit action, shaky science, and giant pincers mayhem- in a time before men had a clue about equal rights.

Them! is a story about giant ants who have a thing for sugar and don’t mind taking out any fool who isn’t packing a flamethrower or has the common sense to shoot off their antennae. The story begins with a catatonic little girl found wandering a desert road  shocked into silence by something obviously horrific. The local police find the ransacked remains of a sleeper trailer with little cubes of sweetness scattered everywhere. As the patrolmen puzzle the strange scene we get our first listen to the eerie cry of Them carried on the desert winds. The actual sound they used for the film is of a choir of tree frogs. Tree-frog song in the desert! -better call the experts.

Enter Dr. Medford and her father Dr. Medford. They’ve seen this kind of thing before and have a hunch as to what might be the culprit. Joan Weldon plays the younger Dr. Medford. Her presence  provides plenty of opportunity for doctor/patient jokes from the rough around the edges FBI agent who doesn’t speak Myrmecology. After the little girl snaps out of her comatose state by screaming “them, them”, the gang heads to the desert. After poking around the dunes for a few minutes Dr. Medford hears the tree frog song and then is face to face with one of Them! The sheer delight of this film is the old school anamatronic design of the giant ants and the havoc they cause smashing through windows and walls to get at sailors and soldiers to crush in their pincers. Joan belts out a wonderful scream at first sight but then idly sits back and watches the guys unload their firearms into the creature. The handguns seem to have no effect, but luckily the trooper has a machine gun in the car and knows just how to use it.

Turns out all that atomic bomb testing in the desert had a few unforeseen side effects- like giant ants! Them! is a wonderful slice of low budget Hollywood magic. The original production was meant to be in colour and in 3D. Although the budget was cut at the last minute it went on to become one of Warner Brothers biggest money makers of 1954.

Joan Weldon                                                    Julie Adams

The Creature from the Black Lagoon trades the desert for the dense jungle of the Amazon and giant fury anamatronic insects for a rubber suited gill-man. The story begins with the finding of a strange fossilized hand protruding from a rock embankment deep in the jungle.  A few minutes later, a very similar all too alive hand slowly creeps out of the river uncomfortably close to camp. While the old scientist goes back to civilization to get his fossil looked at, the creature comes out of the water and makes short work of the two local amazonians who stayed behind.

Soon the Amazon is lousy with scientists heading up  the river in search of the body that the hand belonged to.  The shock and horror utter indifference of finding the slain workmen only sets the men’s minds to finding the rest of the fossil.  Kay Lawrence played by Julie Adams is along for the ride to offer a helpful towel or meaningful look when called for. After a sweat inducing montage of digging the men come up empty handed. Using science, they figure the bones may have originated in a different location up river. The colourful riverboat captain offers up a possibility know as the ‘Black Lagoon’. After packing up their pressurized spear guns – they’re off.

The underwater scenes of the Lagoon (filmed in Florida) are truly beautiful. The most memorable would have to be Kay’s mirrored swim with the creature.  Meanwhile, another two locals get taken out by the creature but the scientists crack on with business as usual. During one of the dives, the creature makes himself known and gets a spear in the ribs for his trouble. He escapes but is never too far away. The great thing about this film is that creature is never out of sight for more than 5 minutes at a time; it may only be a hand or foot but he’s always there. After he escapes their net, the environmentally irresponsible scientists decide to poison the lagoon to stun all the fish including the creature. Their plan works and they capture him. They fashion a Gilligan’s Island style cage to hold him but he quickly escapes severely wounding one of scientists in the process. Things just got real. Unfazed by the four locals, now that one of their own got hurt it’s time to weigh anchor and get the hell out of there. The creature and a strategically placed log have different plans.

If you’re looking for a movie this Halloween you can’t go wrong with these two. Both films offer thrills, science lessons, fun and laughter. What exactly was in the water in 1954? Besides the lovesick fish-man I mean.


Hugo Review

I unfortunately missed Hugo in the theatres but finally got around to watching the film last night. I had ordered the DVD when it first came out and it has sat on my shelf ever since. The film has everything I like in a movie, great sets, good actors, an amazing director, an interesting premise, but for some reason my interest wasn’t peaked, so on my shelf it sat.

First off, I really wanted to like Hugo and I kind of did.  I have nothing but admiration for Martin Scorsese. The film looked great with its lavish sets and clocklike precision but I couldn’t figure out who the intended audience for this movie was. It is meant to be Scorsese’s first children’s movie but it never feels comfortable in those shoes. It had all the appropriate kid-like elements: an orphan boy trying to reconnect with his past, a mysterious automaton that may hold the key, a key, cartoonish villains and mild menace and peril. All these things felt like a frame that surrounded the real picture; the heart of this film is the birth of cinema and recognizing one of its earliest pioneers – Georges Méliès played by Sir Ben Kingsley.

Georges Méliès started his career as a magician and then eventually turned his skills to movie magic. Martin Scorsese uses Hugo to write a wonderful love letter to this man and his importance to film history. As an audience we get a glimpse into his working methods and innovations. These scenes brim with both whimsy and wonder. The greatest parts of the entire movie for me are the actual clips from Méliès’ films. I have seen many poor transfers and pixelated versions online and the difference in quality is jaw-dropping.

Scorsese’s love letter doesn’t just stop at George; we get to see Harold Lloyd climbing a 12 story building in Safety Last. Legend has it Lloyd was actually on the side of a building in downtown Los Angeles with only a mattress on a make shift platform below him to catch his fall. There are also clips from The Great Train Robbery and The General starring the magnificent Buster Keaton. Legend has it that Keaton’s director informed his cameraman to keep rolling no matter what, until Buster yelled cut or was killed – whichever came first. Scorsese even goes so far as to reenact the audience’s reaction to the Lumière Brothers first showing of a train arriving at a station. This becomes an inside joke later on in the film as another train comes off the screen with a little help of 3D technology.

The aesthetic elements of the film are like eye candy. The colour blue is a motif carried throughout the film. It tints every scene from Hugo’s eyes to the inspector’s uniform. Scorsese uses it masterfully with the ease of Picasso. Dust hangs in the air like tiny sun drenched particles, reminding the audience of moments past. The Parisian landscape is a wondrous sight.

Paris was the birthplace of cinema, so it is the appropriate backdrop for Hugo to take place in, but the film never feels French.  All the actors speak with English accents. This fact took me out of the story and reminded me of how manufactured big budget films are. Every detail is meticulously considered and when a detail is off the overall feeling can be off-putting.

In the end, I think Hugo feels like a good movie that could have been great.