Monday, April 25, 2016

Aliens (1986): This Time It's 30yrs Old!

For as long as I can remember, Aliens has been a special and pretty much PERFECT film in my life.  The first time I can remember seeing it has to be during its original CBS television debut in 1989 and, oddly enough, I remember doing so through a pair of 3D glasses.  While I can’t remember if viewing through only the red or blue lens individually masked some of the grizzlier moments or not – maybe I was channeling the way martial arts films got around television censors before I even knew that was a thing? – I definitely enjoyed what I saw and, as far as I was concerned, it was on from that point.  Shortly after that, I fondly remember playing the Aliens arcade game from Konami which, to me, is still one of the best arcade games ever!

You all know the story:  57 years after the events of Alien, a team of crack commando Colonial Marines are sent to the deadly Alien planet of LV-426 to investigate the sudden communication breakdown with the colonists who’ve inhabited it.  Lt. Ripley, last surviving member of the Nostromo, is sent with the Marines as a technical advisor since she’s familiar with the creatures, only after she’s assured that they’re going there to destroy – Not to study. Not to bring back.  But to wipe them out.  

From there out, it’s non-stop action all along the way; as Bill Paxton’s Hudson exclaims “Express elevator to Hell. Goin’ down!”  Of course, it wouldn’t be until years later as an adult that I’d catch James Cameron’s Vietnam allegory not-so-thinly below the surface of the film’s OOH and AHH structure; it’s pretty blatant that the Dropship kinda looks like a Huey Bell UH-1 helicopter and that the Marines’ overconfidence and reliance on technology ultimately becomes their undoing against a far less-advanced enemy.  See, even the most fun and excited genre movie can have something important to say!

But yes, as the film inches towards its 30th Anniversary on July 18th, I can’t help but look back fondly on it and exactly how trendsetting it truly was.  Think about it:  how many genre movies have you seen where there is a group of “badasses” who look cool and spit out one-liners left and right?  There are way too many to count right?  In fact, 2002’s Resident Evil didn’t just try to borrow this formula with its group of commandos accompanied by someone who has a past history with the monsters, they simply had Michelle Rodriquez just replay the Vasquez character!  Forhelvede!

Design-wise, while H. R. Giger’s original creature designs will never be matched after his Oscar-winning work in Alien, my hat is off to Cameron and the late, great Stan Winston (that one still stings to type!) for re-imagining the designs a bit and making the Xenomorphs more bug-like in look and nature.  As far as I’m concerned, between Alien and Aliens, that’s when the creatures looked the best; all of the sequels (and AvP movies) have missed the mark in some ways. 

Speaking of creature-design, who doesn’t love the Alien Queen?  Dreamt up by Cameron and realized by Winston and his team, that bitch is truly one of the classic movie monsters!  Again, like the Xenomorph itself, any other film appearance by the Alien Queen pales in comparison to her 1986 debut.  There’s simply no contest. 

Let’s talk about that incredible score – which you’re no doubt humming right now -- from the late James Horner (that still feels odd to type) . . . the track “Bishop’s Countdown” that plays as Ripley & Newt are rescued by Bishop in the Dropship moments before the reactors blow LV-426 to dust is the kind of music that should be played during EVERY heart-stopping, pulse-pounding moment that builds to a crescendo in movies, TV, and life!  Oh wait, it already has as it’s appeared in dozens of movie trailers since 1986!

When I think of the movie Aliens, I’m immediately reminded of a special time in my life:  adolescence.  My best friend was Chris and his dad had a copy of the movie on VHS; though I don’t think we ever watched it.  However, once Alien3 was released in 1992, I immediately taped Aliens when it was shown as a seemingly free movie on Request Pay-Per-View – of course, I missed the very beginning of the film, so that tape I’d watch for years started with the Marines running into formation for inspection by Sgt. Apone as he proclaimed them to be “absolutely badasses.” 

It was around this time, at the age of 10 or 11 when Aliens really took hold of my interests and strengthened some strong friendships.  Along with Chris, my other Aliens buddies were John and his little brother Dan.  Together, the four of us would watch the film endlessly for the next 3 or 4 years.  Slowly but surely, the trio of me and John & Dan would become obsessed with all-things Aliens.  We collected the original Dark Horse comic books (or any of their seemingly endless spinoffs), were always drawing the movie’s titular creatures whenever & wherever we could, dropped at least $20 of quarters in the local arcade as we tried to beat the arcade game (we almost did, but the Queen got us!), role-played the movie with our toy guns (as well as the occasional Predator cross-over) and, eventually, collected the action figures from Kenner Toys!

As an adult, I find myself quoting Aliens in pretty much any given situation on a daily basis.  When I’m assigned a particular task, I’ll sometimes throw out an “I’m on it” with the same tone as Hudson; if I’m asked about something that I might not want to admit, I’ll deliver a “Yeah…yeah, that’s right” in the same, uneasy tone as Hicks; if I’m impressed by what someone has done or said, I’ll casually throw out a “Now all we need is a deck of cards” . . . I know there are plenty more that slip out, too.  Haha. 

Seriously, I don’t think there’s a single thing that I can find fault in with Aliens.  From top to bottom, Fox fanfare to fade out of the closing credits, this movie continues to rock my world!  Here’s to another 30 years!

Friday, April 8, 2016

12 Films That Have Stayed With Me

Recently, I was tagged in a Facebook post to rattle off 12 films that have stayed with me.  The instructions were A.) Not too think about it too hard and B.) To only use one film per director.  Obviously, the point of this blog entry goes against Rule A., but, I just thought this was too cool of a thing to pass up (plus, my buddy Richard Diaz gave me the idea of breaking each film down and why they're so important to me).  On with the list, shall we?
Dawn of the Dead – the fact that I wrote one of my college papers on why I love this film so much speaks volumes.  To me, it goes together with me the way oxygen does…it’s just a simple part of me.  From the first time I saw this film, as a wide-eyed 5yr old who dug the sounds and images of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, to the time I rediscovered it as an 11yr old and falling head over heels for it, to ultimately meeting many of the film’s creators and visiting many of its filming locations. 

There’s a sense of comfort and familiarity that goes along with this film; it’s unmistakable soundtrack like a sweet lullaby or calming force.  In short, Dawn never gets old for me!

2.) Rocky IV – this was the first film I ever saw in a theater and, even though I was only 3yrs old, I still have very vivid memories of seeing it.  Both of my parents telling me that it was like watching a really big TV and that I had to be quiet (a rule that I’ve never forgotten nor broken) as they piled their coats up on a seat so that I could see.  I sat there in pure amazement, ignoring my parents as they offered me popcorn, candy, or a drink.  The only time I broke my fixed attention was…when I fell asleep.  BUT, I do clearly recall the scene of Apollo visiting Rocky at his home with his intentions to fight Drago. 

Perhaps one of the first albums I ever owned was the soundtrack to Rocky IV (I’ve since gotten it on CD and vinyl now too); each song inspiring me to climb mountains and beat up Russians.  It’s safe to say that, yes; this is another one that never gets old for me.

3.) Indiana Jones And The Temple of Doom – while I can’t say for sure whether I saw this or Raiders of the Lost Ark first, this one has always held a special place in my heart.  Sure, a lot of people would choose Raiders over Temple of Doom, but not me.  Maybe I saw a little of myself in Short Round, as I day-dreamed about going on adventures with one of my first childhood heroes, Indiana Jones.  Maybe it’s the borderline horror movie elements that creep their way throughout the story and set pieces; admit it, the Temple of Doom itself, with its towering Khali statue is incredible!  Speaking of which, who doesn’t love a lei made from human skulls and a grass skirt made from severed human arms??  Plus, John Williams’ score is fantastic in this; sure Raiders has some incredible themes on its own, but Temple of Doom has its titular piece that places during the human sacrifice sequence….if I had a band, that music would totally be our intro theme! 

As if further proof was needed of just how deeply ingrained Temple of Doom is in my psyche, as a kid, every time I’d see a rope or wire bridge, I’d INSTANTLY want to run/play on it because of the movie.  Hell, to this day, I can’t not see a suspension foot-bridge and not want to cut it in the middle and drop twenty or thirty advancing bad guys on either side of me into the waters below!

4.) Rocky – why yes, I am including two Rocky movies…different directors.  Next to Indiana Jones, Rocky was an early childhood hero to me (thanks mostly to Rocky IV).  As a kid, I remember seeing all the Rocky movies at various points, often getting them confused with one another – no thanks to the previous endings being repeated at the start of each sequel.  However, I didn’t really fall in love with the original film until high school.  I saw and still see a lot of myself in the Rocky character.  I’ve always felt like an underdog – especially in elementary school and, to some extent, in high school where I was considered popular and pretty much everyone liked me.  “His whole life was a million to one shot” . . . my million to one shot was going to college and becoming the first person in my family to do so an earn a degree.  Much like Rocko training for the big fight with Apollo, I busted my ass during my final semesters at Rutgers University (another instance where the Rocky IV soundtrack came in handy…listening to it as I studied for my absolute final exam literally before I walked over to take it!). 

In life, I’d also consider myself an underdog; sort of marching to the beat of my own drum and never really finding myself fitting in with the so-called status quo (whenever I tried to do so, it came off disingenuously). 

5.) A Nightmare on Elm Street 4:  The Dream Master – some of you may say “the sequels sucked! Freddy became a wise-cracker instead of a skin-carver!”  While this may be true to a fault, the first Nightmare film I ever saw was either Nightmare 3 or Nightmare 4.  In fact, this was the one that I remember seeing TV spots for around its release.  Regardless, it’s always been the one I’ve felt closest to.  The kids in it are all great and, to me, are realistically fleshed-out instead of the cardboard stereotypes you’d see in other horror franchises of the time.  Actually, they’re all kids I either wanted to be or at least hang out with!  Lisa Wilcox’s transformation from shy Alice to ass-kicking Dream Master is a great, believable arc.  Danny Hassel’s Dan reminds me of the jocks I was friends with in high school.  Andras Jones, as Rick, is the kinda dude I’d hang out with and/or secretly want to be.  To this day, I’m not afraid to admit that I still have a crush of Brooke Theiss as Debbie.  Haha.    

As for Freddy….well, this is MY Freddy.  As a kid, watching the entire series on VHS, I always felt that the first two films (especially the original) had Freddy “all wrong”.   From the sleeves with no stripes and hobo look (and voice) in Nightmare 1 to the general all-around evil nature in Nightmare 2, it all felt like the filmmakers were still trying to perfect the character. 

Plus…that soundtrack!  At the time, The Fat Boys and “Are You Ready For Freddy” was my jam.  There’s not a time that goes by where I don’t play Dramarama’s “Anything, Anything (I’ll Give You)” and not want to work out or kick some ass at something! 

6.) Back To The Future – growing up in the 80s and early 90s and being your average American boy, it’s safe to say that Marty McFly was a dude you were required to look up to and emulate!  In my eyes, anyone with a skateboard or riding a skateboard was Marty McFly.  Even though I have very fond memories of seeing Part II and Part III in the theater, it’s the first film that solidified my love for the series.  Marty was just so cool in pretty much every situation and always outsmarting Biff!  Maybe I saw some of that in myself, since I was never a big, muscular brute and I always thought I could charm or talk my way out of potentially bad situations.  Plus, what kid at that time didn’t think the DeLorean was the raddest car of all time or who didn’t want to rock out on a guitar like that?  Why yes…I did play air guitar on a broom to “Johnny B. Goode” many, many times.

7.) Aliens – I can still vaguely recall the first time I saw Aliens on TV, through the lenses of a pair of 3D glasses.  I kept switching from one eye to the other, making the picture either totally blue or completely red.  The thinking of a 5yr old, right?  Of course, another early memory revolving around Aliens was, or course, the accompanying arcade game released in 1990 . . . loads of fun that one!   Anyway, as a film, Aliens is exactly like a rollercoaster thrill-ride!  It was never “scary” to me, but always a fun ride with memorable characters – who didn’t want to be Hicks or even Drake?  In the early 90s, instead of just playing “guns” or “war” with my buddies, we’d play Aliens or Predator (especially when we get toy mini-guns!).  I was so obsessed with Aliens that I remember one night during a snowstorm, which was almost guaranteeing no school the next day, I took an old pair of greyish pants and colored black camouflage all over them to resemble the Marines’ gear!  True story.

Around 1992 when Alien3 came out, I managed to tape Aliens off of Request Pay-Per-View, which was for some reason airing it as a free movie.  Of course, I missed the very beginning and so the tape that I always watched -- until I bought the first DVD boxset in 1999 or 2000 – always started with the Marines rushing formation for inspection as they prepared to board the Dropship.  Also, don’t even get me started on the toys from Kenner….had them all…well, most of them.  Some of the mutant, hybrid Aliens were a bit too goofy-looking for my taste as the line started to die out.  In fact, when I first heard there was going to be a toy line from Kenner, I daydreamed of what the figures would look like – almost exact recreations of the movie, though the finally released line (based in part on an unproduced cartoon series) still fit the bill for me. 

Today, it’s one of those movies that I can quote verbatim and, in any given situation, I tend to throw out a line or two . . . I still say “I’m on it” just like Hudson after Hicks gives him orders later in the film!

8.) Michael Jackson’s Thriller  - “But this isn’t a film…” you say?  Bullshit.  Of course it is.  The reason for its inclusion on my list is pretty simple:  it was my exact introduction to all things Horror and monsters.  Being born in 1982, Michael Jackson was part of my being and the Thriller album as a whole was a huge part of that.  I can still vividly recall watching the Thriller music video in pre-school in 1985/1986 and being terrified of the were-cat monster (which I always thought was a werewolf anyway) and not really scared by the “monsters” in the second half of the short film . . . of course, then I saw Dawn of the Dead and my entire notion of zombies (and, most importantly, what they are and what they can do) made Thriller absolutely terrifying to me!

Let’s not forget that ending either . . .still creeps me out!!   Hell, even though I’m almost 34yrs old, just the intro of the song itself still kinda creeps me out.  Those memories and emotions I felt while watching Michael Jackson’s Thriller way back when I was knee-high to a duck have stayed with me for evigt!  And so, it’s because of Michael Jackson’s Thriller that I can trace the roots of my Horror fandom back to today.

9.) The Crow – the first time I read about this film was in an issue of Comics magazine and, while I’m not 100% certain, I’m pretty sure it was before Brandon Lee’s tragic death.  At this point, I had seen Showdown in Little Tokyo and Rapid Fire and so I knew Brandon was “Bruce Lee’s son” and that he was an all-around badass just like his father before him.  My interest was definitely there from a photo in the mag of Lee, in character with the make-up and trench coat.  This would be a cool movie.  And then he died and an entirely different vibe swept over the film and its release.

I was obsessed with The Crow . . . even though I absolutely hated the way people would point out to me that I was.  To this day, I kinda still loathe the word “obsessed” mainly for this very reason.  Ultimately, what attracted me to The Crow so much was that it was a story about love (which, given that I was 11/12yrs old when it was released and I was starting to have “those feelings”, I was looking for love) and revenge (hey, there’s still a part of me that would love nothing more than to turn the tables on those who tormented and wronged me).  This is a film that came along in an awkward period of my life…if I ever had a Goth or emo phase, this was it….grew my hair out (mostly because I wanted to be Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction and/or because Metallica had long hair), wore a lot of black (mostly because of Metallica though) and started to immerse myself in music and movies and was basically finding my own identity.  Ultimately, I never owned a black trench coat, wore white pancake makeup, dyed my hair jet black, painted my nails black, or wore eye makeup…so yeah.  Of course, I was The Crow for Halloween that year, but that was about it.     

The film itself was awesome . . . it was one of the first movies that I rented and double-taped (as it wasn’t yet available to own yet) and got smacked in the face with macrovision copy-protection!  So, even though the tape copied, the picture constantly went from very bright to very dark throughout the entire running time!!  But, at least I had the movie!!

Speaking of music, this is one of the last great soundtracks that I can listen to front to back with no complaints.  Every track is great and, more importantly, is actually in the damn movie!  Nope, none of this “music from and inspired by” bullshit here! 

Over the years, my “obsession” with The Crow seemed to have waned a bit as there was a time where I literally didn’t watch the film or listen to the soundtrack for, at least, 10 years.  It’s one of those films (and soundtracks) that I can revisit and fondly recall those earlier emotions as well as continue to enjoy the story.

10.) Pulp Fiction – another film that I can quote endlessly (and still throughout lines from in almost everyday conversation) with an outstanding soundtrack from start to finish, this is one for the ages as far as I’m concerned.  Actually, the first time I heard of the movie was by seeing the theatrical trailer at the start of The Crow VHS that I had copied!  At first, when I saw Bruce Willis, I thought it was going to be a Die Hard sequel and that Travolta was the villain . . . imagine that scenario for a moment, will you?!  Anyway, that trailer kinda blew me away and I knew right there that I needed to see this film.  Ultimately, I missed it in the theater, but I do remember staring fondly at its theatrical poster in the light box at the movie theater that I’d eventually work at 4 years later! 

As a matter of fact, I had the soundtrack for Pulp Fiction almost 21 years ago to this day!  Yup…bought the soundtrack before I ever saw the movie and I can remember wondering aloud how some of the dialogue bits fit into the film – did Samuel L. Jackson play a preacher man (or at least pose as one) who got shot up?!?!  It’s safe to say that I wore that CD out because I actually did and took it back to The Wall music store, under their “Lifetime Music Guarantee” and got a fresh disc.  Side note:  how many of us just switched out cassette or CD cases with these famous blue stickers when something happened to the music?  Haha.  

My local video store was awesome; they had a killer Horror section and I never got carded for the stuff I’d rent – whether it was I Spit On Your Grave or, in this case, Pulp Fiction.  I actually reserved the very first rental of the VHS at my store and I remember being excited as hell when the day finally arrived that I could go pick it up!  As soon as the end of the day bell rang at school that day, I walked my narrow butt the mile or so down the road to the video store – straight from school.  I even remember waving to my teacher as he drove by while I was walking along the shoulder of the road!  My life changed that afternoon when I brought the movie home . . . in fact, one of my buddies was over and watched it with me.  I think both of us heard many words and phrases that neither had heard before (which we soon added to our vocabulary of course!) and, if I’m not mistaken, he got in trouble with his parents for watching the movie at my house! 

Good times!

11.) The Adventures of Milo & Otis – I’m pretty sure I didn’t see this in the theater, but it was one of the first movies that my mom rented for me on Request Pay-Per-View (along with Elvira: Mistress of the Dark).  To this day, it cracks me when people view my Film Aficionado collection listing and this is at the top since it’s alphabetical! 

Before I was all about blood, guts, zombies, and heavy metal thunder, I was a cat person (and still am, though I don’t have any pets any longer).  This movie and its story of a curious cat and a pug-nosed pup has always spoken volumes to me about the true meaning and values of friendship.  No matter whom you are or what your differences may be – even if you’re a cat and he or she is a dog – it doesn’t mean that you can’t be the best of friends!  Everything is just too cute about this film; from the adventure that Milo & Otis go on and all of the other characters they meet along the way, to the late Dudley Moore’s excellent narration.  One day, I’d love to see the original Japanese version of this film, though I’m sure it doesn’t have that great theme song!

12.) Night Patrol – to some, this is a film that is bottom of the barrel, lowest of the low-brow comedy at its worst.  To me, it’s one film that I will NEVER forget seeing for the first time in my life!  It was a New Year’s Eve party at my cousin’s house – 2002 into 2003 – and one of his friends had brought it over for a screening.  I was literally in pain from laughing so hard at those guys laughing at the movie!!  Everything about it friggin’ KILLS me!  The diner scene is worth the price alone, but just do yourself a favor and check it out . . . especially if you’re into or get the comedic styling of The Unknown Comic!