Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Celebrating the Communal Experience of Film

As we count down the hours to the start of our 40 Years, 40 Movies marathon, perhaps I should revisit the question so many of you must have. Why?

When I was approaching my 30th birthday, Vonna and I talked about how I wanted to celebrate. The idea of renting a movie theater came up, and I quickly gravitated to renting a 35mm print of Raiders of the Lost Ark for a screening. We had a blast - I think we had nearly 100 people in attendance, and we had our names on the marquee (sorry I don't have the pictures handy - but trust me it said "John and Vonna present Raiders of the Lost Ark"). And I got to watch  my favorite movie on the big screen for the first time in years surrounded by friends and family.

When Vonna asked what I wanted to do for my 40th birthday, I knew wanted to try and live up to what we did 10 years ago. With The Slaughtered Lamb at our disposal, I knew I had the opportunity to screen a number of films that people might enjoy watching with me on the big screen. A 40-hour marathon was quickly dismissed, and quickly replaced with a month-long, 40-movie series.

And now, a confession. In all my 40 years, there are only two movies I've ever gone to see in theaters (other than the SLC) on my own. In one case, it was a screening of my personal 35mm print of Night of the Living Dead (1990) at a local theater that was scrambling when they failed to get a print of the original for a midnight show. The second was just two years ago, when I decided to brave the elements to catch a midnight premiere of I Am Legend (it was a Thursday night - and waaaaay past Vonna's bedtime).

Other than that, I've only seen movies with friends or family. Because to me, there's something missing if at the end of the show you don't have someone you can turn to to laugh, debate, or trade quotes with. By hosting 40 movie screenings over 30 days, and inviting you all to join me over the course of the month, I'm hoping to have more bonding moments with you over some (but far from all) of my favorite films.

So I am quite sincere when I say that your presence at any screening in January will be truly appreciated.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

And the runners up are...

So now that you have a chance to review the full list of our 40 movies in detail, you may be wondering, how come such-and-such didn't make the cut. In almost all cases, it boils down to a simple answer. With very few exceptions, if we had already watched the film in The Slaughtered Lamb in the last two years, we set it aside to make room for a different selection.

For that reason, we aren't watching:
Night of the Living Dead
Day of the Dead
Capricorn One
This is Spinal Tap
National Lampoon's Vacation
Mad Max
Mad Monster Party
The Ghost and Mr. Chicken
The Haunting
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Near Dark
The Omega Man
The Last Man on Earth
Burnt Offerings
Blade Runner

And in some cases, we've got bigger and better plans lined up for a particular film, which would have been disrupted by their inclusion in the 40/40 Series.

So we also didn't include:
Back to the Future
The Lord of the Rings
Planet of the Apes
Kill Bill
Patriot Games
Lethal Weapon
Spider Baby
Carnival of Souls
Godzilla's Revenge

When we started down this path, I had no idea how hard it would be to come up with a list of 40 must-see films, while maintaining a mix of genres and appealing to a broad an audience as possible. In a few days, we'll find out how successful we have been.

See you in The Slaughtered Lamb next month.

Friday, December 25, 2009

January 30, 2010 - Mulholland Drive & Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

I made a schedule adjustment recently so that our closing night of the 40/40 series would be a David Lynch double feature - in fact my two favorite Lynch films. Determining which we'd watch first came down to deciding how I wanted to wrap our series... with the final image of Fire Walk With Me or Mulholland Drive. Without giving anything away, I felt the closing frames of FWWM were more in line with the tone I wanted to end the series on, so our penultimate film is David Lynch's Mulholland Drive.

When I first heard about Mulholland Drive, I was very excited. It signaled David' Lynch's return to the small screen. The pilot for a series set in and around LA, I longed for something second only to his masterwork series Twin Peaks. Then stories of problems started to emerge. And the project was shelved. An article in The New Yorker described how Lynch was basically given carte blanche, and then when he delivered something that was longer than the time slot, the execs told him it had to be cut to fit the time slot. He basically said nothing could go and when they said you cut it or we will, he took it and brought back a version that ran identically except for ending abruptly at the time limit. Needless to say, the network brass were less than pleased and the project was shelved.

Fast forward years later. Word gets out that Lynch will be releasing a theatrical film of Mulholland Drive. Having read and enjoyed the original teleplay, I was looking forward to it but could not have expected he would find such an interesting way to use the material he shot for the TV show and incorporate that into a similar, yet very different feature film. It was amazing to see on the big screen and I don't think the majority of the audience knew what hit them by the time it was through.

Thanks to the region free nature of HD-DVD, we'll be able to screen the film in high-definition. It's dark and mesmerizing. If you've never seen it, don't miss the chance to see it on the big screen.

When Twin Peaks was originally broadcast, nearly 20 years ago, it blew us away. It quickly ascended to the top of the list of favorite television shows. And it was heartbreaking, though by no means expected, when this avant garde show was finally dropped by the network. The odds of seeing more Twin Peaks seemed quite thin, so when a feature film prequel - detailing the last seven days in the life of troubled prom queen Laura Palmer - was announced, we couldn't wait to see it.

You'd think we would have been there on opening night to see the film - but a strange series of events had us meeting 80s horror authors John Skipp and Craig Spector for drinks, as they were in town for one of Fangoria's numerous failed attempts to establish the bay area as a hub for their conventions. I can't recall why we didn't make it out to see it the next night, but we finally made it that Sunday. I was so utterly blown away I knew right then I needed to see it again. So we went back the next night with our friend Becky. And I dragged another friend Cliff out to see it the following night - knowing he had not even watched the series (he liked it, BTW - hopefully he still has fond memories of it?). Needless to say, I knew it's shelf-life at the Century Town and Country was limited, and I wanted to soak in as much as I could.

Sheryl Lee, who didn't have nearly as much time to shine in the series, gives an absolutely phenomenal performance in the film. The feature matched the high points of the TV show, with the only possible complaint being that there was not the time nor opportunity to focus on other characters from the show. It's dark, blackly comic at times, and beautifully produced. It remains one of my all-time favorite films.

We hope you'll join us for the closing night of our 40/40 series on the 30th.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

January 29, 2010 - Eyes Wide Shut

My favorite film of 1999 was not, as some might suspect, directed by George Lucas. It was not, interestingly enough, based on an amazing novel by Chuck Palahniuk. No, my favorite film of 1999 was what I describe as Stanley Kubrick's attempt to make a David Lynch movie.

As I mentioned previously, I developed a certain affinity for Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey over the years. Frankly, few of his other films interested me. A Clockwork Orange and The Shining perhaps the only notable exceptions.

There was much uproar over Eyes Wide Shut - at first about the scandalous nature of the film starring then Hollywood Royalty Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Then, after Kubrick's untimely death, the film was optically censored (at first described as according to the late director's wishes, but who are we kidding).

When Vonna and I saw the film at the AMC Saratoga in July of 1999, the mass audiences were still flocking to see The Phantom Menace the third, fourth and fifth times, so it was no surprise that we were of but a handful in attendance. The film blew me away. I didn't really know what to expect, but what I got was, as described above, Stanley Kubrick's take on a David Lynch concept. Secrets, deceit, betrayal, and a naive character sucked into a vortex from which he may not safely escape. It was a very powerful film, with several very well constructed set pieces.

When it came out on DVD, I ordered it from the UK as they saw fit to release Kubrick's original, uncensored version. That is the version that we will be watching on Blu Ray on the 29th. We hope you'll consider joining us for this swan song from a master filmmaker.

January 28, 2010 - The Crow

From my years working in a comic shop during college, I was familiar with, but not a huge fan of, James O'Barr's The Crow. While I felt the book had an interesting look and style, I felt it was a one-note "revenge from beyond the grave" tale. When I found out my old pal David J. Schow was working on the screenplay, I was intrigued. Working from O'Barr's simple premise, I was confident that he would do some interesting things to flesh out the story and characters.

As a fan of Bruce Lee growing up - I thought it was an interesting vehicle for young Brandon Lee, whose prior film work I had not seen. I followed the stories of the mishaps on the set of the film, and of course the accidental shooting of Brandon. I knew David had been on the set during the entire production, and I couldn't imagine what that must have been like, not to mention the following period of speculation as to whether the film would be completed, and what it would take to do that.

Fortunately, the team, led by director Alex Proyas, and Brandon's family felt that the film should move forward. Vonna and I were in Phoenix for the World Horror Convention in March of 1994, near which they held the first public preview of the film. We secured passes to the midnight screening, and almost didn't make it in as there were lines around the mall where the screening was taking place. It was a film you walked out of knowing you had seen something special. The visual style, production design, and amazing performance by Brandon Lee that would serve as his legacy all added up to so much more than one could have expected based on the source material.

When I had the opportunity to meet Linda Lee Caldwell (Brandon's mom and Bruce Lee's widow) several years later, I commented how much I enjoyed Brandon's work in The Crow, and she noted how much the film had meant to him.

As our 40/40 Series draws nearer to its conclusion, we'll honor the memory of Brandon Lee with our screening of The Crow on the 28th.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

January 27, 2010 - Dawn of the Dead (137m)

Dawn of the Dead. Considered by many to be George A. Romero's magnum opus. I was too young to catch it in the theater, although I still have memories of seeing television ads (the zombie in the coin fountain always stood out), and of Scott Reiniger being interviewed by John Stanley on Creature Features.

I remember when I first found out it was coming to home video - I saw the poster in the video store across from the Meridian Quad (THE mini-multiplex for low budget independent horror classics in the 80s). Shortly thereafter, I recall seeing the notice in our local rental shop indicating that it was scheduled out the following week (this was long before Blockbuster, and even before there were Mom & Pop rental shops on every streetcorner).

After school on the day it was released, we headed over to the video store and were the first to check it out. I watched it with my Dad that night, and I was blown away. It was beyond what I ever could have imagined. I got up extra early the next morning and watched it before school, and watched it a third time as soon as I got home from school, before it had to be returned that night. And I've been a fan ever since.

Years later, stories started circulating about different versions of the film - longer versions, extra scenes. If memory serves, the first copy of the 137 minute Cannes cut (which circulated on 16mm from Cinema V)  that I owned was procured at the Zombie Jamboree in 1993 (celebrating the 25th anniversary of Night of the Living Dead). In the ensuing years, I'd upgrade to the Japanese LaserDisc, DVD and even found myself an actual Cinema V 16mm print. As we watched the theatrical cut in 2008 for our All Day of the Dead party, I thought it only appropriate that we screen an alternate cut in our 40/40 series.

And who knows - maybe we'll even screen the 16mm print on the 27th - we'll have to see what the weather is like outside. We hope you'll join us as we celebrate flesh eating zombies - classic Romero style.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

January 26, 2010 - Zombie

In the wake of George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead (released as Zombi internationally), the floodgates of hell opened up and numerous knock-off zombie films poured out. One of the most memorable came from Italian goremeister Lucio Fulci. Unabashedly titled Zombi 2, it was released as Zombie in the US.

It features all the hallmarks of Italian horror films of the 80s: outrageous gore effects, ludicrous setpieces (zombie vs shark anyone?), and a bleak ending. All of which add up to a good time for anyone who can stomach it!

I've seen the film numerous times since its original release on videotape, and it does have a unique charm. We hope you'll consider joining us for a little Italian zombie fun on the 26th.

January 25, 2010 - Shaun of the Dead

After seeing the first trailer for Shaun of the Dead, I immediately went online to find out everything I could about the guys who made it. I ended up blind ordering their TV series SPACED from Amazon in the UK. We couldn't wait to get our hands on a copy of Shaun to host a special pre-US release party. We did, shortly before we were able to order the official R2 DVD of the film, and it was a huge hit. Like Young Frankenstein, the film was not only incredibly funny, but extremely reverent to the  George A. Romero films that had inspired it - most obviously Dawn of the Dead.

2004 was also the first year Peter and I decided to give the San Diego Comic Con a whirl, and as luck would have it, Shaun of the Dead was getting two US premiere screenings during the event. Through a series of fortunate events, I was able to get tickets to the screenings on both Friday and Saturday nights. On Friday night, Pete and I were invited to sit in those roped off areas (thanks Chris!) that tend to piss the rest of us off when you go to a preview screening and have to sit in bad seats while the premium seats remain empty.

After the Saturday screening, I had the opportunity to meet director/writer Edgar Wright and writer/star Simon Pegg. These were very cool guys who were obviously very excited about the opportunities their little film was offering them - I'd dare say they were among the hottest celebrities at the Con that year. I was able to get pictures with each of them - thanks to Greg Nicotero of KNB for snapping a pic of Edgar and I. Oddly enough, when we returned to San Diego two years later, Edgar was back promoting Hot Fuzz, this time with Nick Frost in tow, and once again, Greg Nicotero was nice enough to snap the following pic (the taking of which can be seen in one of the Hot Fuzz podcasts!).

If you haven't seen it, you're missing out on the funniest film of the last 10 years, and one of my picks for the top ten comedies of all time. And if you have seen it, you already know that it holds up to repeat viewings. We'll see you all on Monday the 25th, as we kick off the mini-zombie marathon in the final week of the 40/40 series.

January 23, 2010 - Escape From New York, The Thing & Big Trouble in Little China

Our regularly monthly movie party for January brings together three great movies pairing actor Kurt Russell and director John Carpenter.

Escape From New York is one of those films that had a lasting impact, inspiring numerous knockoffs none of which can touch the original (not to mention a sequel that is for all purposes a lesser re-imagining). I love Russell's Eastwood-like performance, which is all the more appropriate in that he was paired with the late, great Lee Van Cleef. Not having cable growing up (and in the days before VHS so rentals weren't yet an option), I was introduced to many an 80s classic at my friend Mark's house. Escape was one such film.

The Thing, a remake in its own right, was a film very much unappreciated when it was released in the summer of 1982. Many will say that in the wake of E.T. the world wasn't interested in a less than benevolent alien. In the ensuing years the film has been embraced by millions - but for those of us who grew up watching it on video, we always knew it was a classic.

Big Trouble in Little China was the first Russell/Carpenter flick that I was able to see theatrically. I saw it with Joe and it's one of those films that you left the theater quoting - and we still do to this day. It's another film that was ahead of its time. Back then, the average filmgoer wasn't familiar with the Chinese cinema this film was faithfully referencing. As with The Thing, it's fan base has grown through the years. If you've been to the Lamb you've likely seen it, but if you haven't, you should know that we have a Jack Burton figure in our china cabinet, or as I like to think of it, our Big Trouble in Little China Cabinet.

If I have one regret, it's that we don't have time to re-run the series with the Russell/Carpenter commentary tracks for each of these. While the films themselves are great entertainment, it's a rare opportunity to feel like you're sitting back and joking with the guys you're watching onscreen. You can tell that they had as much fun making the films as we do watching them.

Join us for this triple feature that is action packed, horrifying, and hilarious.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

January 22, 2010 - The Lost Boys

My pal Joey and I caught a preview screening of The Lost Boys at Century 22 a week or so before it's July 31st opening back in 1987. The film, shot near our hometown at the Boardwalk in Santa Cruz, was a fun mix of comedy and horror. As the tagline says: Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die. It's fun to be a vampire.

What's not to like?

A few weeks after it opened, we spent a weekend at a cheap motel in Santa Cruz, right off the Boardwalk. On our first day there, we ran into a street vendor who did airbrush art. We each had a black pullover hooded sweatshirt, and asked him to do them up with "Santa Carla, Home of the Lost Boys" on the back - the last part in dripping blood. Turns out he was featured in the opening credits of the film, and more than happy to do them for us. Sadly, you couldn't see him on home video for years until a widescreen LaserDisc was released. He was cropped out of the pan & scan version, so for years no one believed our story. But for that weekend, we spent the days and nights on the boardwalk in our Lost Boys sweatshirts, denying involvement in the film to everyone who asked. Of course, there's nothing like denying something to convince someone you're not telling them the truth. Needless to say, we enjoyed our short-lived celebrity status. The title of Lost Boys stuck with us for years, and we revisit the film fondly even now - more than 20 years later.

Forget Twilight. Come see Kiefer Sutherland and Jason Patrick lead the original cool teen vampires on January 22nd.

January 21, 2010 - Starman

Our next dip into the John Carpenter well comes in the form of his 'nice' alien film, Starman (don't worry - his nasty aliens are just days away).

Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen are excellent as a widowed woman and the alien who has taken the form of her deceased husaband. Bridges really sells the process of a new life form learning what it is to be human. It's got the Carpenter action set pieces you've come to know and expect, and a fantastic score (not by Carpenter, but composer Jack Nitzsche).

I honestly can't recall if I first saw the film theatrically or on video, but it's one more reason why I like Carpenter's canon. His films display a nice range for a director who doesn't stray from genre films, and even the worst have interesting high points. No need to worry - Starman is far from his worst.

We hope you'll join us for this road trip on the 21st - the day I'll turn 40.

Monday, December 7, 2009

January 20, 2010 - The Great Escape

The Great Escape is truly an epic film. Telling the story of a group of P.O.W.'s in World War II German prison camp, it features an all star cast including Steve McQueen, James Garner, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasence and James Coburn.

It's a long film, but one that is entertaining from start to finish. Between the great characters and performances to the brilliant Elmer Bernstein score, there's lots to enjoy here. John Sturges knew what he was doing - he reassembled many of the folks he had worked with on The Magnificent Seven.

Because of it's length, it's a film I grew up watching on television spread over two nights. I am very excited to finally be watching it on a big screen.

We hope you'll join us for this inspirational tale on January 20th.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

January 19, 2010 - Martin

John Amplas gives an excellent performance in the title roll of Martin, the 84 year-old vampire. Or is he? George Romero once again crafts a highly original tale that turns genre conventions on their head. If anyone considered him a one-hit wonder, Romero clearly refuted such claims with this and his next following film, Dawn of the Dead.

Martin features some amazing make-up effects by maestro Tom Savini, who also plays a supporting role. It was his first pairing with Romero, and would kick off a working relationship that would last many years and films.

As with Dawn of the Dead, I came to George Romero's Martin by way of the Thorn EMI videocassette. Day of the Dead would be the first Romero film I would see theatrically.

I'm amazed Martin has not yet been targeted for a contemporary remake - but that's all the more reason to come out and watch it with us on the 19th!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

January 18, 2010 - Waiting for Guffman & A Mighty Wind

If you know me, you're probably wondering how come the 40/40 series does not include This is Spinal Tap. One of the criteria I tried to use when setting the schedule was not screening something we have watched within the last several months. Since we celebrated Spinal Tap's 25th anniversary over the summer, I decided to go with the next best thing for this Martin Luther King Holiday Double Feature.

Christopher Guest took the improvisational form to new levels with films like Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, and A Mighty Wind. I decided to pair the two musical features for this night of laugh out loud hilarity.

Guffman flew under our radar (and most everyone else's) until it was released on video. Eugene Levy, Fred Williard, Parker Posey and Guest himself all demonstrated an amazing ability to craft characters in such a way that even when exhibiting behaviors that border the absurd, they remain real and believable. I'm amazed that a film about a community theater's preparation for a show celebrating the town's sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) could be so much fun.

I was sure to catch his next films during their limited theatrical releases. In what may be his magnum opus, A Mighty Wind, we not only get another eclectic mix of characters, but a number of original folk tunes, including several by The Folksmen, who you may have seen live if you've ever been to a Spinal Tap concert. More great humor and more great songs combine for a night of great fun.

We hope you'll consider joining us for this special holiday double feature.