Sunday, December 14, 2014

Ghostbusters II (1989)

It's been five years since the Sumerian God of destruction, Gozir the Gozirian, brought his wrath down upon New York City. And the heroes who brought him down, The Ghostbusters, are forced out of business by a spate of lawsuits over the property damage they caused.

Dr. Raymond "Ray" Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) owns a bookstore; he and and Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) earn money performing at parties, taking verbal abuse from kids. Dr. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) has a job at a Columbia University laboratory, and Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) hosts a psychic television show.

Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver), who had been possessed by Zuul the Gatekeeper, has a son now – Baby Oscar (William T. and Hank J. Deutschendorf) – the result of being married to a concert violinist who left and joined the London Symphony Orchestra. She now earns a living as a restorer in the Manhattan Museum of Art, where her boss, Dr. Janiz Poha (Peter McNicol), keeps coming on to her.

A painting of Vigo the Carpathian (Wilhelm Von Homburg) comes to life and takes possession of Janiz, ordering him to bring him a child.

There is another problem: Pink ooze is invading the city. And a strange thing happens to Oscar – his carriage starts moving all by itself on a busy street. Ray, Egon and Venkman investigate her apartment and the street. There's something strange under the street – a river of slime. It reacts to human emotional states ... and it's got tentacles.

When they're arrested and tried for a bunch of transgressions, they're defended by Louis Tully (Rick Moranis), who had been possessed by Vinz Clortho the Keymaster and who got his law degree online. (The prosecuting attorney is played by Janet Margolin, in her final film.) A pair of gangster ghosts that invade the courtroom are no match for the boys, who prove their worth.

The Ghostbusters are back in business and joined by their former office manager, Janine Melnitz (the still ever-so-cute Annie Potts). Janine and Louis connect while babysitting Oscar.

It turns out there IS a connection between Vigo and the never-ending river of pink slime, and the boys are on the job. It's time to convince Mayor Lenny (David Marguiles) once again.

Too late. There's chaos in the streets and Oscar is swiped. The Ghostbusters (plus Louis) are back (again) and the rest, you have to see for yourself (the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man had nothing on the pink slime). Go, Miss Liberty!

Trivia notes: Max Von Sydow dubbed the lines spoken by Vigo the Carpathian (Wilhelm Von Homburg). Bill Murray's brother, Brian Doyle-Murray, played the mental hospital psychiatrist. Vigo was based on Vkad the Impaler and Rasputin. Director Ivan Reitman's son, Jason (wise-mouthed kid) and daughter, Catherine (girl with puppy), appeared in the film. Bill Murray was disappointed in the film ("whole lot of slime, not much of us").

Ghostbusters II had the biggest three-day opening in history, but Batman broke its record a week later. Produced on a $37-million budget, Ghostbusters II ended up with an impressive box office of $215.4 million. But it's definitely not on the same level as the first one. Not even close.

Grade: B-

Quotations I like from the film:

"We had part of a Slinky. But I straightened it." – Dr. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis)

"Peter? Well, he was borderline for a while. Then he crossed the border." – Dr. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis)

"Being miserable and treating other people like dirt is every New Yorker's God-given right." – Mayor Lenny (David Marguiles)

"I used to have a roommate, but my mom moved to Florida." – Louis Tully (Rick Moranis)

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Ghostbusters (1984)

Strange things are happening in New York. Like ghosts in the New York Public Library.

But not to worry ... Columbia University paranormal studies professor Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) knows what's up. He and his partners – Dr. Raymond "Ray" Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Dr. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) – jump at the chance to investigate.

Unfortunately, the university yanks its funding and tosses them out on the street, with no money to fund their ecto-containment system to capture ghosts. They do the only thing they can do. They mortgage Ray's house and start their own business, hiring Janine Melnitz (the adorable Annie Potts) as their office manager.

Meanwhile, Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) is having problems of her own. No, it's not her nerdy neighbor, Louis Tully (Rick Moranis). It's a demon in her apartment refrigerator. Remembering a Ghostbusters TV commercial, she consults the guys.

The boys respond to an emergency ghost call on the 12th floor of the Sedgewick Hotel that leads to a slimey encounter with Slimer. Despite wrecking the ballroom with their positron colliders, they make their first capture, and with it, their reputation is made. Their booming business attracts the interest of the Environmental Protection Agency and their lawyer, Walter Peck (William Atherton). They need more help, so they hire Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson).

Back to Dana Barrett. It turns out the demon in her fridge is Gozer the Gizeruan (Slavitza Jovan, voiced by Paddi Edwards), the Sumerian God of Destruction. Gozer soon re-manifests and before you know it, gargoyles turn into demon dogs. Dana is possessed by Zuul the "Gatekeeper," and Louis by Vinz Clortho the "Keymaster."

That's when things get veeerrry interesting (to quote the Henry Gibson Nazi character in Rowan & Martin's Laugh In), leading up to a gigantic encounter with the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.

Ghostbusters changed a lot from its original concept. The "ghostMASHERS" were to travel through space and all dimensions to battle giant ghosts. Dan Aykroyd had meant it to be a vehicle for Saturday Night Live characters, and even wrote in a part for John Belushi and John Candy. But Belushi died, and Candy didn't commit when his ideas for the Louis Tully role were rejected.

Trivia Notes: Most of Bill Murray's lines are ad-libs. The melted marshmallow was actually shaving cream. The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man suits cost $20,000 apiece (all were destroyed during filming). Chevy Chase rejected the Venkman role. Michael Keaton also mixed participation. Considered for the Egon Spengler part were Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Lloyd and John Lithgow.

Ghostbusters was nominated for two Academy Awards – Best Visual Effects, and Best Original Song (of course you remember, "If there's something strange in your neighborhood, who ya gonna call? GHOSTBUSTERS!"). The film was ranked #28 by the American Film Institute in its "100 Years... 100 Laughs" list.

Recorded by Ray Parker Jr., the Ghostbusters theme (Ghostbusters!) occupied the #1 spot in Billboard's Hot 100s Chart for three weeks. It was the highest-grossing comedy of all time until it was surpassed by 1990's Home Alone.

Produced on a $30-million budget, Ghostbusters had a monster box office of nearly $300 million and held the #1 spot for five consecutive weeks. A sequel, Ghostbusters II, was released in 1989, with all the principal cast members reprising their roles. A second sequel is being thought about. Ghostbusters also spawned two animated TV series (The Real Ghostbusters and Extreme Ghostbusters) and a number of video games.

Grade: A-

Quotations I like from the film:

"He slimed me." – Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray)

"I find her interesting because she's a client and because she sleeps above her covers ... FOUR FEET above her covers. She barks, she drools, she claws!" – Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray)

"Listen ... do you smell anything?" – Dr. Raymond "Ray" Stantz (Dan Aykroyd)

"You know, you don't act like a scientist ... You're more like a game-show host." – Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver)

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Marnie (1964)

Margaret "Marnie" Edgar (Tippi Hedren; Melody Thomas Scott as young girl), is a kleptomaniac with serious psychological problems (e.g. she's afraid of the color red, and storms). 

Her mother, Bernice (Louise Latham), who babysits for extra money, marvels at how she can afford to buy her gifts such as a mink boa. Although she's generous, Marnie can't help thinking that her mother sees her as indecent, wondering out loud why mother doesn't love her.

Mark Rutland (Sean Connery), a client of her latest victim, Sidney Strutt (Martin Gabel), has her hired as a typist despite seeing through her deceptions.

Her new boss' secretary, Susan Clabon (Mariette Hartley), fills her in on Lil Mainwaring (Diane Baker), Mark's former sister-in-law. Mark's wife (Susan's sister) died a year or so ago. She also reveals that her boss has to check the safe's five-number combination in her drawer every time he opens the safe.

Mark succumbs to her beauty and charm. They begin spending time together and he takes her home to meet his dad (Alan Napier). Lil Mainwaring is there too, irritated that Mark's seeing someone.

One day, after everybody goes home from work, Marnie finds the combination and steals a purseful of money from the safe. Mark makes her confess, but uses the information to blackmail her into marrying him. That doesn't exactly make Marnie happy, and it sure does piss Lil off (she was trying to wriggle her way into Mark's life).

And then, too late, on their honeymoon cruise, Mark discovers Marnie is frigid. He respects it for a while, but eventually forces himself on her, consummating their marriage. Result? She attempts suicide.

After Mark examines her thoughts and psyche, and when secrets are exposed at a party thrown by the jealous Lil, Mark forces mother Bernice to spill the beans and tell all – a troubling story involving sailor (Bruce Dern) from Marnie’s childhood.

It’s no secret that Tippi Hedren and Alfred Hitchcock had a falling-out during filming; the story has been told often and is alluded to in the 2012 HBO movie, The Girl. Still, Miss Hedren has said this is her favorite movie of all that she’s appeared in.

Hitchcock had been in discussions with Grace Kelly to play the title character, but Kelly had to decline for two reasons: The residents of Monaco disapproved, and she had not fulfilled her MGM contract as of yet. Others considered and rejected were Eva Marie Saint, Vera Miles, Susan Hampshire, Lee Remick, and Claire Griswold. Peter O’Toole and Marlon Brando had been considered for the Sean Connery role. Paul Newman was offered the role, but turned it down.

Based on Winston Graham's 1961 novel, Marnie had a box office of $7 million, a moderate success, against a budget of $3 million.

Alfred Hitchcock’s usual cameo comes five minutes into the film; he enters from the left of the hotel corridor just after Marnie passes by carting a large yellow handbag.

Marnie runs two hours and 10 minutes, a bit too long, in my opinion. Hitchcock could have tightened it up considerably by editing out 15 minutes. At times, the conversations are entirely too long. I liked the acting, though. Connery is very good, as usual; Miss Hedren shows more range than she did in The Birds. Diane Baker is more beautiful than I've ever seen her before, and Louise Latham (Bernice) is excellent.

The last 15 minutes are pure Hitchcock. They're terrifying and heart-wrenching, but they explain everything. And all's well.

Grade: B+

Quotations I like from the movie:

You don’t love me. I’m just something you’ve caught! You think I’m some sort of animal you’ve trapped.” – Margaret "Marnie" Edgar (Tippi Hedren)

You’ve very sexy with your face clean.” – Mark Rutland (Sean Connery)

The best thing for the inside of a man or a woman is the outside of a horse.”  – Mr. Rutland (Alan Napier)

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Her (2013)

Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a professional letter writer for a Los Angeles company devoted to writing romantic, intimate letters for clients who can't do it themselves. Despite his talent (or maybe because of it?), he's an introvert, he's lonely, and he and his wife, Catherine (Rooney Mara), are getting a divorce.

Theodore is into computer programs, but they're unfulfilling. For example, when he can't sleep one night, he has online sex with Sexy Kitten (voiced by Kristen Wiig), who in the heat of passion implores him to choke her with a dead cat and bring her to orgasm – "I came so hard! Okay, good night." No satisfaction for him.

So ... Theodore sets up an individualized OS (operating system). These things are so intuitive and sophisticated. He installs a female AI (artificial intelligence) who's named herself "Samantha" (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). She is so real, smart, conversational, funny and sensitive. The only thing Samantha lacks is a body.

They connect. Oh boy, do they connect. They become close, and he confesses to her that he's avoiding signing the divorce papers.

Samantha sets him up with a woman, Amelia (Olivia Wilde), suggested by a friend. She's pretty, she's hot, she's conversational, but she's insecure and turns out to be a bit of a psycho. Samantha sympathizes and understands his internal feelings. They have virtual sex that culminates in mutual satisfaction.

And then there's his budding-filmmaker friend, Amy (Amy Adams), who's separating with her husband, Charles (Matt Letscher), over something pretty trivial that went out of control. And she's befriended the OS that Charles left behind when he joined a monetary. Theodore confesses he's also dating an OS (Samantha).

Of course, Catherine doesn't understand. And then, Theodore starts to doubt the OS relationship himself when Samantha reveals she's now communicating with 8,316 others and has fallen love with 641 of them, which can only strengthen Theodore's and her relationship. Even a sex surrogate, Isabella (Portia Doubleday), who is set up by and stands in for Samantha, isn't much help.

But, good things happen before everything falls apart.

Her is a pretty strange movie. It's interesting and entertaining, and somewhat beyond the realm of credibility. One really has to stretch the imagination and suspend belief to accept what Theodore is going through, trying to cope with a virtual person who has the same vulnerabilities and insecurities as a real woman.

I thought that all in all, Her is pretty depressing. There are no happy characters (not even voices), because when all's said and done, as the saying goes, water finds its own level. In other words, in the end, it all evens out, and we go back to what we were. At least, that's the message I heard.

The computer operating system (Samantha) gets her name from Samantha Morton, who was originally cast in the role, but replaced by Scarlett Johansson. Another character is named by the actress who played her – Amy (Amy Adams). Carey Mulligan was cast to play Catherine, but had to drop out because of scheduling conflicts. She was replaced by Rooney Mara.

Deja vu again and again. The same girl passes the yellow-shirted Theodore four times while he's sitting on the stairs. I read this in a trivia list, but couldn't tell. Can you believe somebody actually noticed and counted this?

Her was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Spike Jonze won an Oscar for Best Writing, Screenplay. This is the first and only time that Jonze singularly produced and directed a movie from a script he'd written himself.

Grade: C-

Quotations I like from the film:

"The past is a story we tell ourselves." – Samantha (Scarlett Johansson)

"I think anybody who falls in love is a freak. It's a crazy thing to do. It's kind of like a form of socially acceptable insanity." – Amy (Amy Adams)

"The heart is not like a box that gets filled up; it expands in size the more you love. I'm different from you. That doesn't make me love you any less. It actually makes me love you more." – Samantha (Scarlett Johansson)

[About marriage] "Well, it's hard for sure. But there's something that feels so good about sharing your life with somebody." – Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Demonic Toys (1992)

Judith Gray (Tracy Scoggins) and Matt Cable (Jeff Weston) are a couple. They're also cops. Plus, there's news – Judith is pregnant, which elates Matt. They're on an illegal weapons bust of gun dealers Lincoln (Michael Russo), and Guy Hesse (Barry Lynch) that ends badly for Matt, who's shot dead, and Hesse, who's also shot.

Lincoln and Guy run into Toyland Warehouse (home of toy overstocks), just as security guard Charneski (Peter Schrum) phones in an order to Chunky Chicken and waits for his friend, Mark Wayne (Bentley Mitchy), to deliver it.

As Hesse lies bleeding on the warehouse floor, some of the toys come to life. One of them – Jack Attack in the Box – chews on his face. Then Grizzly Teddy eats his fingers, and finally, Mr. Static the Robot shoots him in the chest over and over again. It's apparent that "The Kid" (Daniel Cerny) has been awakened from 66-year-long hibernation by Hesse's blood.

Mark arrives with the chicken, and Charneski chows down, while Judith and Lincoln are stuck in a stockroom frightened by the gunshots and Hesse's screams. Charneski thinks those are coming from his office TV set where Puppet Master II is playing.

Nobody knows the evil toys are on the loose. Charneski finds out, when he runs into Grizzly Teddy, Baby Oopsy-Daisy, and Jack Attack. Munch, maniacal laughter, munch. Anne (Ellen Dunning), a runaway who's been hiding in the wall space, reveals herself and tells them all about the toys.

The scattered toy alphabet blocks on the floor start spelling out threatening messages and The Kid (about whom Judith has had dreams) makes an appearance. He wants a body to "hang his soul in" and he has his heart set on Judiith's unborn child.

Things turn really bad for everyone before they get better.

I couldn't help thinking that Tracy Scoggins has come a long way in the wrong direction since her successful days as a television series star (e.g., Dynasty, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Babylon 5, The Colbys). 

Movie-going audiences were spared a theatrical release, as Demonic Toys went straight to video, where it achieved cult status. It was followed by three sequels: Dollman vs Demonic Toys (1993), Puppet Master vs Demonic Toys (2004) and Demonic Toys 2 (2010).

Demonic Toys is a trashy movie. There's lots of bad overacting, especially by Michael Russo and Bentley Mitchy. It's cheesy, but it has its own charm and is kind of entertaining and enjoyable in its own way. Other audience reviewers have given it fairly high grades, but the best I can do is a C.

Grade: C

Quotations I like from the film:

"I'm Baby Oopsy-Daisy, will you be my special friend? ... I can walk, I can talk, I can even shit my pants." – Baby Oopsy Daisy (voiced by Linda O. Cook)

"Everything tastes like chicken, you notice that? Frog's legs, snakes ... Even rabbits taste like chicken." – Mark Wayne (Bentley Mitchy)

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (2004)

Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights is basically the same as the original 1987 Patrick Swayze-Jennifer Grey hit, Dirty Dancing, but in a different circumstance.

Katey Miller (Roma Luna), her parents Jeannie and Bert Miller (Sela Ward and John Slattery), and younger sister Susie (Mika Boorem), move to Havana, Cuba, which is on the brink of revolution.

It's the '50s, and the clothes reflect the time. At the American school, Boys wear white shirts and ties to class, girls wore identical orange-pink dresses. She's brainy and it shows. Where the others in her class are inattentive and joke around, Katey knows the right answers.

Two boys enter her life: James Phelps (Jonathan Jackson), her dad's boss's son, who takes her to a country club dance, where she doesn't fit in. The music is the usual American pop songs and dances. She has James take her to a Cuban dance club.

The other is Javier Suarez (Diego Luna), a local working as a bus boy in their hotel. She sees him street dancing and is strangely attracted to the hot and sweaty Cuban dance with sensual moves. There's something about the music. Javier teaches her some of the basics.

When James comes on to her, she dumps him and walks home with Javier. Katey's younger sister, Susie (Mika Boorem), sees them together, and gets him fired. But that doesn't stop Katey, who later decides she wants to enter a dance contest with him, which doesn't sit well with her parents.

She'd been taking lessons from a dancing instructor (Patrick Swayze), in scenes similar to Swayze's scenes with Baby Houseman in the original 1987 movie.

The contest becomes the scene of revolutionary action, of which Carlos (Rene Lavan), Javier's brother, is a participant.

Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights is based on the real life experiences of producer JoAnn Jansen, who in 1958-1959 lived in Cuba as a 15 year old. Produced on a budget of $25 million, it returned a box office of $27.7 million. Not so good, and for good reason.

This remake is okay, but rather lightweight fare, with nothing truly gripping going on. I mean, we've seen this before. I'm wondering if I'd feel differently if I hadn't seen the original. No surprises, that's for sure. They could have skipped remaking the movie; that might have been a better solution. Having said that, the performances and dancing are not so bad.

Grade: C

Quotations I like from the film:

"I speak English, and I don't need your charity." – Javier Suarez (Diego Luna)

"Javier once said that dancing is about being exactly who you want to be in that moment. Dancing with him, I realized I was becoming exactly the woman I wanted to be." – Katey Miller (Roma Luna)

"My job is to make you look beautiful. Your job is to make our bodies like one." – Dance Class Instructor (Patrick Swayze)

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Two men are following Charles Oakley (Joseph Cotton), but for what is a mystery. To elude them, he visits his sister, Emma Newton (Patricia Collinge), and her family – husband Joseph (Henry Travers), son Roger (Charles Bates) and daughters Charlotte (Teresa Wright), aka "Charlie," and Ann (Edna May Wonacott) – in Santa Rosa, just north of San Francisco.

The Newtons are delighted to see him, especially Charlie, because she's Uncle Charlie's favorite.

Great characterizations, by the way – seriously precocious little Ann cracks me up; littler Roger yaps away, unable to shut up. Charlotte’s dad and his neighbor, Herbie Hawkins (Hume Cronyn, in his film debut), are crime fiction buffs and meet often to compare notes and theories about murder. 

Charlie notices Uncle Charlie acting strangely; e.g., he avoids the term, "Merry Widow," he hides portions of the paper, and at times his temper is short and he makes odd remarks.

Then, two men show up wanting to interview a "typical American family" for the National Public Survey. He's leery of that, and for good reason. The two men are actually detectives – Jack Graham (Macdonald Care) and Fred Saunders (Wallace Ford). They suspect Uncle Charlie of being the Merry Widow Murderer. Putting two and two together, Charlie begins to suspect as well.

Uncle Charlie is eventually exonerated, but not all else is fine. You see, Charlie's life is in peril.

Director Alfred Hitchcock’s traditional cameo occurs about 16 minutes into the film. He’s playing bridge with a doctor and his wife. Both Hitchcock and Teresa Wright have said that Shadow of a Doubt was their favorite film. Personally, there are several other Hitchcock films that I like better than Shadow of a Doubt.

Hitchcock originally wanted Joan Fontaine and William Powell to play the leads, but both were unavailable.

Shadow of a Doubt was nominated for the Best Writing, Original Story Academy Award. By the way, with two lead characters named “Charlie,” “Charlie” was spoken around 170 times in the movie.

Teresa Wright reprised her role in a 1944 presentation on Lux Radio Theater. She was joined by William Powell as Uncle Charlie. In 1950, Screen Directors Playhouse ran it as a radio-play starring Cary Grant and Betsy Drake. The Ford Theater ran an adaptation in 1949, and the Screen Guild Theater did it twice. Shadow of a Doubt was remade as Step Down to Terror, starring Colleen Miller, Charles Drane and Rod Taylor, in 1958.

The movie was a box office failure upon its release, but then ended up being ranked #81 for the year.

Grade: B

Quotations I like from the film:

What’s the use of looking backward? What’s the use of looking ahead? Today’s the thing – that’s my philosophy. Today.” – Charles “Uncle Charlie” Oakley (Joseph Cotton)

The ones that don’t want anything always get more in the end.” – Ann Newton (Edna May Wonacott)

Mothers don’t lose daughters. Don’t you remember? They gain sons.” – Charlotte “Young Charlie” Newton (Teresa Wright)