Friday, February 22, 2019

Worth Mentioning - So Let It Whip

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

A troubled Carpenter classic, a samurai epic, and modern horror.

THE FOG (1980)

When film fans hear that a movie will be undergoing reshoots, they often fear the worst. Plenty of movies have been ruined by extensive reshoots when they should have just kept on track with the original plan - a recent example of this was director Shane Black's The Predator. But sometimes reshoots are routine and serve to fill in some necessary gaps. And sometimes reshoots really can save a movie. John Carpenter's 1980 film The Fog is an example of that, it was saved by additional photography that came after the movie had been cut together and found to be lacking. As Carpenter put it, the first cut of The Fog "sucked". The final version of it became another well-regarded Carpenter classic.

Having told the story of a knife-wielding maniac with Halloween, Carpenter and his co-writer/producer Debra Hill wanted to focus on something more supernatural in their next horror feature. They crafted the story of a town called Antonio Bay, which is set to celebrate its centennial on April 21st. A date that also happens to mark the 100th anniversary of the time when six high-ranking townspeople used a campfire on the beach to lure a ship to its doom on a dark, foggy night so they could loot the gold on board and use it to fund their new town.

Everyone on board the ship died when it sank. 100 years later, another fog bank covers Antonio Bay, and from this fog emerges the raggedy corpses of those dead sailors, seeking revenge - they intend to claim six lives - and their gold. This idea of vengeance from beyond the grave was inspired by the classic EC Comics, the story of a ship being wrecked on purpose so it could be looted apparently actually happened in California a couple hundred years ago, and Carpenter was inspired to do something creepy and fog-related when he and Hill visited Stonehenge on a foggy day.

The reshoots on The Fog were done to punch up the scare sequences, and nearly every cool, memorable moment concerning the ghostly sailors and the strange things their supernatural presence causes to happen are the result of those reshoots. Eerie moments, jumps, violence, gross-outs, all added after Carpenter and his collaborators originally thought they had finished shooting this movie. There are even some slasher moments in here. Although Carpenter thought he was leaving the knife-wielding maniac behind when he made this one, the sailors do carry bladed weapons, and audiences of the time expected to see those bladed weapons used.

The Fog has an ensemble cast, and the characters who are in Antonio Bay when the fog hits and are in danger of ending up on the wrong end of those bladed weapons include Adrienne Barbeau as Stevie Wayne, who runs a jazz radio station out of a lighthouse, an incredible location that required the cast and crew to go up and down 300 steps. Stevie is a single mother to a young son named Andy (Ty Mitchell), who is home with his babysitter Mrs. Kobritz (Regina Waldon) when the fog rolls in. Charles Cyphers plays weatherman Dan O'Bannon, who keeps track of the fog on his monitors and calls Stevie with weather reports. Hal Holbrook is Father Malone, a priest who is deeply disturbed to learn about the town's dark history. Janet Leigh plays Kathy Williams, who is planning the 100th anniversary celebration and her assistant, and shares her scenes with Nancy Loomis as her assistant Sandy Fadel. Leigh's daughter Jamie Lee Curtis is a hitchhiker named Elizabeth Solley, she just happens to share a name with the sunken ship (which was called the Elizabeth Dane) and rolls into town in a vehicle driven by Tom Atkins as Nick Castle.

If anyone could be considered the hero of the film it's Nick, since he's the most proactive character, but it still doesn't make much sense that Elizabeth clearly wants to hop into bed with him as soon as he picks her up on the side of the road. It's not quite as baffling as the younger girl falling for Atkins' middle-aged alcoholic character in Halloween III: Season of the Witch a couple years later, but it's odd. It's also odd that Nick is drinking and driving when he picks Elizabeth up, but that's not presented as a character flaw.

The Fog gets off to a great start, spending the first 25 minutes introducing characters and showing the first kills, which take place on a ship at sea. My favorite part, maybe my favorite sequence in the whole movie, is the stretch that takes place during and soon after the opening credits. We see examples of "paranormal activity" happen throughout the town of Antonio Bay as the spirits of the drowned sailors begin to stir. A stone falls from the wall in Malone's church, revealing that a journal belonging to a priest who participated in the plan to sink the Elizabeth Dane was hidden behind it. Items in a store begin to shake quake, electricity flashes on and off, a gas pump falls to the ground and starts pumping out gas, a chair moves on its own, a line of pay phones starts ringing, the empty vehicles in a car lot start blowing their horns, the windows in Nick's truck shatter for no reason.

It's a good thing those first 25 minutes are so engaging, because the next stretch of the movie is a slow build to nightfall and the return of the fog. If it weren't for the reshoots, the next 40 minutes would have been nothing but people moving around in locations and chatting. Added moments liven it up a bit and make the wait for the return of the fog more tolerable. Then things get pretty fun and exciting in the last 20 minutes.

The final cut of The Fog still isn't one of my favorite Carpenter movies, but I do find it to be decent and entertaining overall, and it's interesting to see how Carpenter saved what could have been a failure.


Widely considered to be one of the greatest movies ever made, director Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai is not a movie I can watch with any regularity. A 207 minute movie in a language I don't understand isn't comfort viewing for me. This is the sort of movie you have to give yourself over to completely, you have to experience it as an event. I watch my share of long movies, sure, but not 207 minutes long, and not with 1950s pacing. There is a lot going on in this film; that length was what it ended up at after the story was whittled down from a first draft that was written with no restrictions and came out to be 500 pages. It's a mini-series masquerading as a feature, and I find it to be overwhelming to try to absorb it in one sitting. Not only do I need to take my time watching it, I also need to take time between viewings. I have seen Seven Samurai twice, the first time being in May of 2002 and the second time coming seventeen years later. That was a good break between.

I could nitpick the running time and say I think the movie could have been whittled down substantially, but who I am to give editing suggestions to a film that has been celebrated as an all-time classic for 65 years?

The story is one that has been remade in different genres many, many times over the decades. That's because it's an idea that's genius in its simplicity. In 1500s Japan, a farming village learns that their homes are going to be raided by bandits when the barley crops are ready to be harvested, so they hire a group of samurai to protect them. The samurai prepare the location, teach the villagers how to fight, stand guard on the outskirts, and when the bandits ride in it's time for battle. Along the way a number of samurai, bandits, and villagers all die, and of course one of the heroes finds love with a local girl.

Kurosawa and his co-writers Shinobu Hashimoto and Hideo Oguni built that simple idea out into an epic by showing us nearly every step along the way. It takes more than an hour for all of the samurai to be assembled and arrive at the village. It takes another hour before the bandits start to show up. Then the final hour is packed with fighting.

You have seven samurai to choose from to be your favorite, but my favorite was the lead guy, a middle-aged ronin named Kambei and played by Takashi Shimura. Shimura was fantastic in this role, and at one point delivers a monologue to a younger samurai that I really loved: "I was once your age, you know. Hone your skills, then go to war and do great things. Then become lord of your own castle and domain. But as you dream those dreams, before you know it, your hair will go as gray as mine. By that time, you’ve lost your parents, and you're all alone."

Seven Samurai is staggering, a whole lot of movie. It has been remade a lot, but it's one of a kind.

THE NUN (2018)

Inspired by Marvel Studios and their Marvel Cinematic Universe of connected films, New Line Cinema has been working with director/producer James Wan to craft the Conjuring Universe, a series of sequels to and spin-offs from Wan's film The Conjuring... But if you look at this cinematic universe very closely, you might notice that it's kind of lazy and haphazard. There don't seem to be any broad plans in place, they're just throwing this stuff together as they go. An example of this was the first spin-off to be released: after audiences reacted well to the appearance of a demon-inhabited doll called Annabelle in the first Conjuring, Annabelle got her own movie that contradicted everything that was said about the doll in The Conjuring. (The prequel Annabelle: Creation tried to make up for this and was a much better film.)

The Nun is another example. In The Conjuring 2, a demon called Valak took the form of a nun to torment paranormal investigator Lorraine Warren and test her religious faith. Audiences reacted well to the nun, which was added late in production because Wan was unhappy with the demon design that preceded it, so the decision was made to give the nun her own movie. Which meant Wan and screenwriter Gary Dauberman would have to come up with a reason for Valak appearing as a nun even when not playing mind games with Lorraine.

Brought to the screen by director Corin Hardy with a nicely atmospheric, old school monster movie sort of vibe, the story Wan and Dauberman came up with involves a portal to Hell being opened in a Romanian castle that is then turned into a convent. The portal is sealed for a long time, but it cracks open again when the convent is hit by bombs dropped during World War II. Now it's 1952 and the demon Valak has emerged from the portal, taking the form of a nun so it can roam the halls of the convent. What a coincidence that circumstances and victims keep giving Valak reason to appear as a nun! Putting the nun look back on to mess with Lorraine in the late '70s must have been a nostalgic trip down memory lane for the demon.

When a nun commits suicide at the convent, a priest (Demian Bichir) and an aspiring nun (Taissa Farmiga, younger sister of The Conjuring star Vera Farmiga) are sent there to investigate the death and determine if the holy ground has been desecrated. There they end up in a fight for their lives against Valak, who throws a lot of frightening visions and jump scares at them.

The set-up is just an excuse to have the characters wander around the convent getting scared for most of the movie, but while The Nun does have a creepy feel to it, the movie didn't totally work for me. Part of this is due to the characters - I didn't care about the people Bichir and Farmiga were playing in the way I cared about the Warrens in the Conjuring films or the orphan girls in Annabelle: Creation, so The Nun automatically ranked below those three movies for me (but still above the first Annabelle, because that one was a major misfire). Another reason is just how paint-by-numbers lazy it felt; there was really nothing going on.

One character I did like was a fellow called Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), a fun and amusing guy who lives near the convent. When he was around, things were more lively, so when he showed up at the convent to get involved with the climactic action I started enjoying the movie more than I had previously.

Which isn't to say I didn't have issues with the climax. It was very distracting how Wan and Dauberman blatantly stole elements from the 1995 Tales from the Crypt movie Demon Knight, even going so far as to copy the ending of that film.

I love Demon Knight. The Nun, I didn't love so much. It's a decent movie, it has a good horror atmosphere to soak in and some nice scare sequences, but it could have been much better than it is if some more effort and thought had been put into it.


The third film in the Purge franchise ended in such a way that it looked like the annual "Purge Night", a 12 hour period during which all crime is made legal in the United States, was about to be eradicated. The movie had done very well at the box office, though, so I assumed there would be more Purge movies, and I was open to watching more of them. But I could see only one way forward for the franchise - James DeMonaco, who had written and directed all three Purge films (The Purge, The Purge: Anarchy, and The Purge: Election Year), would need to take us back to the beginning and see how this Purge stuff started.

That's exactly what he did with The First Purge, although he opted not to direct this one, handing the reins over to Gerard McMurray. This one shows us that the Purge began with a test run held in just one location - Staten Island, New York. The New Founding Fathers, the political party that pushed the Purge into existence, offered to pay any resident who stayed on the island during those 12 hours $5000, with the promise of further compensation if they actually participate in the Purge by committing some kind of crime. Of course, the powers-that-be who thought up this event were total scumbags, and when the lower class citizens don't turn against each other like they were hoping they rig the game, letting loose teams of mercenaries onto the island with orders to kill as many people and cause as much havoc as possible. This way the first Purge will appear to have been a success and the New Founding Fathers can try to roll it out across the entire country.

Showing that this all started out small, in just one place, was an interesting and clever approach, although I couldn't work up much enthusiasm for the execution of the concept. As usual, this Purge film introduces us to characters who are against the idea of the Purge, in this case primarily represented by protest leader Nya (Lex Scott Davis), some who are willing to participate in the Purge, like Nya's younger brother Isaiah (Joivan Wade), and some total lunatics, like a fellow called Skeletor (Rotimi Paul), who turns out to be the first person to commit murder during a Purge.

This time the Purge is being monitored from afar by Dr. May Updale (Marisa Tomei), who was the first person to think this Purge thing might be a good idea, with some of the monitoring made possible by cameras worn by Purgers in glowing contact lenses. People considering participating are interviewed before the Purge commences, and will also be evaluated after the Purge ends. Actress Melonie Diaz appears as one of the residents being interviewed, but doesn't become a major part of the film after that, which I found odd. If I see Diaz show up in a movie, I expect to see her do more than she was given to do here. I don't know if her role was cut or if it was meant to be a cameo all along. She had a credited stunt double, so I'm guessing her character ended up on the cutting room floor.

Staten Island descends into chaos, both homegrown and manufactured by the government, but I didn't find the things that occurred here to be as engaging as events in previous Purge films, even though there was a good deal of action.

The standout element of this film for me was the presence of Y'lan Noel as Nya's ex-boyfriend Dmitri, a local criminal kingpin. This character might have been a villain in the average crime film, given that he deals drugs and orders executions, but here he becomes the hero, and he's a total badass. This was my first time seeing Noel in anything, but as I watched him wade into the action sequences, blowing away mercenaries and blowing stuff up, I began to think this could be a major breakthrough for him. He is a very positive part of The First Purge, and in it he proves to be very capable of being a charismatic action star. I look forward to seeing Y'lan Noel in more films.

The First Purge was my least favorite of the four films so far, but it was still decent and I had a good enough time watching it.

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