Tag Archives: 1998

Throwback Thursday: Invasion(s) of the Body Snatchers!!!

Below are the trailers for all four major film iterations of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”  Though these movies enjoy varying degrees of fame, they all remain close to my heart.  There is just something about Jack Finney’s original paranoia-inducing story idea that’s timeless and frightening.  (Finney’s 1955 novel served as the basis for the first film, directed by Don Siegel, a year later.)  And I always thought that the identity-stealing, alien body snatchers were an elegant monster concept too, because they can be rendered effectively on film with little or no special effects.

The first trailer is for the original 1956 classic, which still holds up surprisingly well.  (If you haven’t seen it, then you might discover that it’s got more urgency and less camp than you’d expect from a typical 1950’s alien invasion flick.)  The second trailer is for the genuinely frightening 1978 remake, which is, quite simply, one of the top science-fiction/horror films of all time.

I was introduced to both of these movies by my “movie uncle,” Uncle John.  I remember thinking the original was far better than I’d expected for an “old black-and-white.”  (I’d had a an adolescent’s predictable skepticism about old movies.)  And the dour 1978 masterpiece got under my skin and stayed there forever.

The 1993 installment, simply titled “Body Snatchers,” is probably the least well known —  I’ve never heard it mentioned outside of horror fan circles.  I myself had never heard of it until I stumbled across it in a video store more than a decade following its release.  It had a very limited theatrical release, and it sometimes feels like the most generic of the “Body Snatchers” movies — like maybe a made-for-television movie or an especially good entry for the first revival of “The Twilight Zone” (1985-1989).

I love it.  You could tell it was a labor of love for its screenwriters and its director, Abel Ferrara … it was obvious that they truly “got” Finney’s concept, and that they set out to deliver just what genre fans wanted.  This “Body Snatchers” was freaky, fast-paced and unsettling, and I still feel it deserves a broader following.

The fourth trailer is for the most maligned and recent adaptation of Finney’s novel, 2007’s “The Invasion.”  (My god, was this really made 13 years ago?  Tempus fugit.)  People really dislike this movie, despite a cast led by Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig.  It was generally panned by both critics and audiences, and I sorta understand why.  It’s got its share of flaws — most notably a hasty happy ending that feels tacked on by the studio.  I don’t quite love it, but I really like it quite a lot — it’s stylish and ambitious and has a lot of creepy moments.  And if you think Nicole Kidman is easy on the eyes, as I do, you’ll see that she looks like a million bucks here.

If you really enjoy these films and are hungry for more, there are two other alien invasion movies that seem to channel the same muse as Finney’s.  The first is 1994’s “The Puppet Masters” by Stuart Orme.  (It should not be confused with its soundalike contemporary, the “Puppet Master” (singular) horror franchise, which depicts demonic dolls.)  “The Puppet Masters” is campy, but still very cool, and it adapts the eponymous 1951 novel by Robert A. Heinlein.

The second recommendation I’d offer is 1998’s “The Faculty.” It’s an even campier horror-comedy aimed more at mainstream audiences, but it’s still a lot if fun.

 

Have a Happy New Year’s Eve!!!

Have fun!  Be safe!  Enjoy!

Make sure you have a designated driver!  Or, better yet … why not be the designated driver?  What better way to spend the first hours of 2019 than as a hero to the people around you (maybe not the hero that Gotham deserves, but the hero it needs right now)?

I’m not sure how I’ve gotten to become such a mother hen in my old age …  Maybe it’s because, in my younger days, I was the one who needed mother henning.

Whatever, just don’t wind up like Gatsby, floating face down in the pool at the end of the night.  (But go ahead and totally be him up until that point.)

Postscript — the quote below, which I rather like, doesn’t appear in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” or its 2013 film treatment with Leonardo DiCaprio.  I’m told that the line actually originates from “Sex and the City” (1998 – 2004).

 

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Throwback Thursday: “Laverne and Shirley” (1976-1983)

Rest in Peace, Penny Marshall.

This is one of only a handful of TV shows that I can remember watching as a tot in the late 1970’s.  “Laverne and Shirley” (1976-1983) was the kind of of thing I’d see in my older sisters’ room.  My Dad and older brother watched war movies, westerns and monster movies, but my two sisters preferred considerably lighter fare.  Two that they watched a lot at the time, if I recall, were this show and “Donnie & Marie” (1976-1979) — about the scariest thing you could find playing on their black-and-white TV was “The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries” (1977-1979). (One of my sisters had a crush on actor Shaun Cassidy; I think there was a poster of him in their room.)

I loved “Laverne and Shirley” when I was that young.  Lenny and Squiggy were my favorite highlight of any episode, even if I was sometimes confused about whether they were meant to be “good guys” or “bad guys.”  I was in kindergarten, and not altogether bright, and I thought that men who wore black leather jackets (Fonzie notwithstanding) were usually “bad guys.”  I also remember thinking that hippies and motorcyclists were the same group of “bad guys” because they disobeyed God or something … my confusion at the time resulted from some vaguely moraled born-again Christian comic books I’d happened across somewhere.

I also remember recognizing “Laverne and Shirley” as being related to another show that a lot of kids back then loved — “Happy Days” (1974-1984), of which it was a spin-off.  This might have been the first time in my life that I was aware of two live-action television properties occupying the same fictional universe; I’d already seen it happen in the movies with the various incarnations of “King Kong” and “Godzilla.”

Here’s what makes me feel old — for both “Laverne and Shirley” and “Happy Days,” I probably watched a lot of the episodes when they were first broadcast, and not just in re-runs (although “Happy Days” was also played in syndication endlessly throughout the 1980’s — it remained a fixture of daytime television).

And I only just realized writing this that Lenny was played by the priceless Michael McKean.  As an adult, I know him primarily from his brilliant turns in “This Is Spinal Tap” (1984) and “The X-Files” (1998-2018).  He’s 71 now.  Wow.

 

 

Getting into the spirit of things …

I just need a Halloween horror playlist, though.  I’ve already seen this year’s “Castle Rock” and (of course) the second season of “Mr. Mercedes.”

“Vampire” (1979) and “The Last Broadcast” (1998) both come highly recommended by some horror-fan friends that I truly trust.  I also believe that I have never seen any of the classic Universal Studios monster movies in their entirety.  I’ve watched bits and pieces of a couple of them on television when I was a young kid, including “Creature From the Black Lagoon” (1954) and “The Invisible Man” (1933).  When I was a tot in the very late 70’s, the studio’s Gothic monsters were still very much a part of the zeitgeist … my older brother even had the Aurora model kits.  I finally enjoyed F. W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu” for the first time a couple of years ago, but of course the 1921 German film preceded the Universal movies, which re-imagined Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” entirely in 1931.

I’ll probably start first by trying to hunt down a copy of “The Wolf Man” (1941).  That’s the one that other everyone always recommends.

 

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Washington, D.C., June 2018

Here are a few more pictures of Washington, D.C. — you’ll notice the befuddling inclusion of a shot of a service station on Wisconsin Avenue.  It was that location that clued me into the fact that I was near my old friend Nick’s neighborhood.

He’s a Mary Wash alum, and I met up with him and some other alums a few years after we graduated.  It would have been … 1998?  1999?  Anyway, I had an air conditioning unit in the trunk of my Ford Taurus, because I’d recently changed apartments myself, and I’d forgotten to take it out.  For reasons I’ve never been able to determine, my friends found that uproariously hilarious.  People called me “Air Conditioner Guy.”  They asked about it in e-mails and calls.  (“Is it still in there?”)  They brought it up at parties.

To this day, I feel certain there is an element to the joke that I am unaware of.

 

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Damn, this is one good cup of covfefe.

Trumps’ presidency is such a disaster that, at this point, our only hope may be to launch a team of plucky oil drillers into space.

Every time I mention “Armageddon” (1998), someone makes a joke about its Morgantastic, Freemaniffic contemporary, “Deep Impact.”  I tell people it is on my list of things to watch, but I still haven’t even seen “Predestination” (2014), “The Fifth Element” (1997) or a single episode of “Breaking Bad” (2008 – 2013).

 

 

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A review of “The Conjuring” (2013)

I feel the same way about “The Conjuring” (2013) as I did about its prequel, “Annabelle” (2014) — it has all the earmarks of a bad movie, but it inexplicably succeeds anyway.

Seriously — this film has clunky exposition, cheesy dialogue and over-the-top plot developments (toward the end), not to mention a plot setup that’s in questionable taste.  (The movie suggests that the innocents condemned by the infamous 1692 Salem witch trials were indeed witches.  This feels a bit awkward to anyone who read Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” in high school.)  “The Conjuring” also plays out like a love letter to Ed and Lorraine Warren, the controversial paranormal investigators who are largely the subject of the film (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga).  This last offense is forgivable, I suppose — the film was made with the Warrens’ blessing, and Lorraine Warren was even present as a “consultant” during its production.

Strangely, however, these flaws were barely noticeable to me when I watched it.  I had a good time.  “The Conjuring” just happens to be a decent fright flick that delivers on the scares.

I think James Wan’s skilled directing has a lot to do with that; the film works visually.  (I could name specific instances where it works especially well, but I want to avoid spoilers.)

The acting helped a lot too — Wilson and Farmiga are both damned good, as is Lili Taylor as the afflicted family’s mother.  (I’ve admired Taylor’s acting since her long ago 1998 guest appearance on “The X-Files,” and she was equally good as a bad guy in 1996’s “Ransom.”)  Ron Livingston was also quite good in the role of the father — if you have trouble placing his face, as I did, he also played Captain Nixon in HBO’s “Band of Brothers” (2001).  He seems to have a talent for playing the likable everyman — he’s great here as the somewhat feckless father, and functions well as a kind of viewer surrogate.  I should also mention the young Joey King as one of the family’s daughters — she played the role of a terrified child to perfection, and really raised the stakes emotionally.

Despite really enjoying most of the movie, some of my enthusiasm for “The Conjuring” flagged a bit toward the end.  The denouement here includes an exorcism, and those are almost always boring.  There are only so many ways that scenario can play out, and we’ve seen them all — and I shouldn’t even need to name that certain 1973 film that did it best.  Furthermore, we see our story’s demon do some pretty extraordinary things, even by demon standards.  It can apparently transport itself great distances (using an inanimate object as a kind of fax machine?), and can manipulate both the laws of physics and the area’s wildlife.  It was all a little too much for my willing suspension of disbelief.

Again, though — this was a good movie.  I’d give it an 8 out of 10, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a good scare.