Friday, August 27, 2010

Film #38: The Lost World (1925)

Damn, dirty apes!
If we learned anything from our nine years in college (what, we liked to party), it is this fact:
Primate monkeys want to be people.

And since they can’t be, these Bobos are so jealous of man that they will strike out with furious fury every chance they can get. For this reason, it is commonly agreed that all monkeys should be shot on sight, before it is too late.

Don’t believe us!? Just watch this week’s flick “The Lost World.” A group of adventurous humans are trapped in a land filled with carnivorous Allosauruses and horny Triceratops, but the animal they have to fear most is a jealousy-filled Ape-Man bent on crushing their melons with rocks! Where is a good monkey gun when you need one!

The flick starts with South American explorer Professor Challenger returning to London with wild claims of a world stuck in the Jurassic era. He said while exploring the uncharted areas of the Amazon River, he came across a huge elevated plateau that, due to its separation from the main jungle, never evolved beyond the age of dinosaurs. Problem is, his canoe tipped over while heading back from the trip and all his proof of the dinos was destroyed. Yeah right, liar.
Preposterous! Outlandish! Absurd! His snotty colleagues yell. Burn the witch!

Challenger offers the audience a challenge, come with him and he will prove the existence of this prehistoric Lost World. Several volunteers step up the task, including sissy boy reporter Edward E. Malone. See Malone loves this dame who don’t love him back, due to the fact that she wants a man with gusto, a man with stories, a man with “strange experiences.” Since that funny business in the sheep barn 13 years ago didn’t count, Malone sees the dino-expedition as a chance to impress his lady love.

When he hears that one of Challengers colleagues was stranded back in the Lost World, the father of worried and lovely Miss Paula White, Malone sees the potential for a sensational newspaper story and his paper decides to fund the entire expedition – with exclusive rights to the story, of course.

Challenger’s new team only half believes they will find anything. After all, Olde Challenger has Doc Brown hair and a Rip Van Winkle beard – who would believe anything this kook says. But when they arrive, The Lost World is more exciting, horrific and dangerous than they could have ever imagined.

Dinos run wild, half man-apes stalk their every move, and violent volcanoes bubble searing lava. Things go from bad to worse when a dum-dum Brontosaurus destroys their bridge between the Lost and Found worlds. The lava isn’t the only thing heating up, as Malone and Miss White begin to get more friendly than a pack of raptors feeding on a goat carcass.

Are our beloved adventurers trapped forever? Will Malone get in some “strange experiences” with a dino?! What about the killer monkeys?!?

Find out in this week’s silent but deadly action/adventure/horror masterpiece, 1925’s “The Lost World.”

RDHP Ratings and Reviews

C-Rating: 4.1
Chris Dimick dino-roars:

“What kid doesn’t love dinosaurs? I’ll tell you what kid, a communist brat! Take them away, boys and lock ‘em up in the CIA raptor pen (I know they have one). Waterboard what’s left of ‘em after that if you like, the filthy non-dino-loving asshole.

Growing up like most male American Twinkie-eating Midwesterners, I was infatuated with these prehistoric ponies. A longtime popular toy around the five-child Dimick home was a set of plastic dinosaurs I received one birthday. My brothers and I would make them battle to the death, chomp down various ill-fated G.I. Joes, and even destroy a few of baby sister’s Barbies.

For each birthday, our caring mother would bake us a themed birthday treat that would make the folks at Charm City Cakes jealous. Most of us demanded a dinosaur cake, which my mom would usually produce as a sheet cake with blue frosting for water, and a middle brown-frosting island covered with terrifying plastic T-Rexes, swaying palm trees, tiny cavemen, and meandering herbivores. It was one of the coolest presents a boy could receive.
My thoughts drifted to those beautiful cakes during this week’s viewing of The Lost World.

I’m in the triple-decades now, but that doesn’t mean my inner love for those giant, angry, dumb, former kings of the world has diminished. After all these years, I had just forgotten how awesome dinosaurs were. And you know what; they are still awesome… even for an adult.

And if you want dinosaurs, The Lost World delivers in spectacular fashion. One might hear the words “special effects driven 1925 silent film” and expect a one way trip to wrist-cutting-boredom-ville. But The Lost World’s special effects amazingly hold up enough to still be fun and amazing to see. These aren’t your CGI T-Rexes smashing through a bathroom and slicing into a John-riding lawyer (Confession, I saw 1993’s Jurassic Park seven times in the theater during its original run. Yes, I was obsessed.)

But that doesn’t mean Lost World's creatures aren’t realistic-looking. I mean, have you ever seen a dinosaur? No. Then how do you know they didn’t look or behave as they did in this film?

Beyond all that, the detail involved in creating these stop-motion dinosaurs is above and beyond anything I've seen from that period, or even the following 40 years. The way they breathe, walk and best of all fight is pretty realistic. Better yet, it is a riot to watch.

And hide the kiddies eyes for some parts; these dinosaurs are not your average Barney fair – one fight scene realistically portrays an Allosaurus gutting then eating a Stegosaurs.

The Lost World is in the monster movie genre of horror, a genre that usually isn’t kind to films as they age. Scary monsters just lose their flair as cultural tastes change and people get used to their image –Frankenstein’s monster had people fainting in the aisles in the 1930s, but today it is no more terrifying than Herman Munster.

But dinosaurs will always scare and fascinate moviegoers as long as they appear on screen. The more we see of them, the more we are intrigued at how helpless we would have been in their presence. They are the ultimate monster… one ironically that brings out the awe-filled whittle kid in you.

Kick into the plot some interesting human characters, solid humor, and a friggin’ fantastic trick monkey named Jocko, and The Lost World, though 85 years old, still tastes as fresh as one of Mom Dimick’s dino birthday cakes.”

N-Rating: 4.0
Nick Rich dino-roars:

"If there's one thing I've learned from watching movies its never combine scientists and dinosaurs - it never turns out well. The Lost World only cemented this knowledge firmly in my brain as I discovered that 85 years ago the situation was exactly the same! This film displayed dinosaurs in a way that had never been experienced before and unleashed on the world an iconic image that still burns bright even today. Dinosaurs sure do get around!

I can absolutely see why people were blown away by this film when it came out - the effects were absolutely amazing! After seeing some advance footage in 1922, the New York Times ran a front page article saying "these monsters of the ancient world, or of the new world discovered in the ether, were extraordinarily lifelike. If fakes, they were masterpieces."

Personally, I'd even go so far as to say that they were better than what was being produced 55 years later! The dinosaurs weren't just a gimmick in this film, the footage of them was copious - even bordering on too much. As I was watching yet another dino attack scene come to an end I was shocked to see saliva and goo in the victors chomping jaws! Keep in mind this reaction is coming from a person who grew up watching Jurassic Park (I didn't see it 7 times like Chris, but I have a wondrously fond memory of seeing it in a magical faraway land - Traverse City - as a young lad); just imagine how someone in 1925 would have reacted!

That's what I'm learning to love about older films... they engage my imagination in a way modern films with all of their zip and zap will never be able to - they make me imagine what it would have been like to view a film in a different time (a practice I've found extremely enjoyable as we've progressed through the project).
And 1925 was certainly a different time.
Now, most modern viewers might find themselves a little bored with this film as the effects (of course) aren't as good as today's and they do have a tendency to go on a bit longer than one is used to... but if you're brave enough to give this film a go, when the long effects scenes are upon you, just let your modern expectations melt away, and think about how wondrous what you are watching would have been in a world where there were still millions of Model-T's on the road!

Nick's Childhood Dinosaur Confession:
Like Chris, I too was into dinosaurs as a child... but I must admit I was wooed into such a state. You see, at the age when dinos are big for young boys He-Man had a firm grip on my heart... my cousin was the one who really loved dinosaurs (with his dino-fossils, dino-books and dino-toys), not me. However, after seeing his zeal for the subject and experiencing the satisfaction of making a T-Rex eat a G.I. Joe, naturally, I promptly made room in my heart for dinosaurs.
Phew! I feel much better getting that off my chest!

The Skinny: Check this flick out - it's in the Library of Congress for Pete's sake! You'll either appreciate it or think its hilarious (or quite possibly feel both ways) - either way its a win-win situation. Goooooooo dinos!

Things We Learned from “The Lost World”:
-Unspoken rule: Kissing someone means you want to marry them - in five minutes.
-The Allosaurus is one angry a-hole of an animal.
-You can Andrew W.K. dance to the end credits of the flick.
-Monkeys will climb anything if it means getting to a human woman.
-Watch out for “girlish whim.”
-T-Rex was a picky eater.
-People fall into friendship as fast as they fall in love in the olden days.
-A slide whistle is the perfect accompaniment to a slip and fall.
-Chris’s first TV crush was mini-skirted cave-girl Christa in the 1991 TV show “Land of the Lost.”
-In 1925 filmland, even the black people were white.
-It takes three seconds to get from London to the mouth of the Amazon by paper ship.
-The area code rule of dating even applies in The Lost World.
-In 1925, people fought by tumbling!

Quote of the Viewing:
[Hunter Sir John Roxton finds the scattered bones of missing explorer White, the father of Miss Paula White. When Roxton gets back to camp to break the news, Malone tells Roxton that he and Paula are going to get married! This puts Roxton in the position as party pooper.]
Chris: [scene shows Roxton talking to Paula] “Don’t expect your father to walk you down the isle. I mean! I’m sure he’s fine!”
Nick: He can still walk her down the aisle, she just has to grab his leg bones and do the work for him.

Things Worse Than Death
Prof. Challenger says in the movie that explorers can face death – or worse – in the Lost World. What could be worse than your entire existence and consciousness disappearing and one’s body becoming worm food? Well, here are a few things:

Mondays get all the press, but we say Tuesdays are the day we’re most likely to ready our noose inside the olde work-hell cubicle. You know, just in case that last straw falls on our backs.

Toll Roads
We’d rather drive our cars off a cliff than onto these road rip-offs. You might have to make 37 turns and guide the way by star position, but it’s worth it to avoid paying “the man” his $1 per axle per mile.

Sitting Next to a “Talker”
Be it airplanes, Amtrak or any other confined public space, we’d rather end it all than have to fake listen to a seatmate who feels comfortable enough spilling their entire 6 hour life story to a complete stranger. Just because I’m sitting next to you doesn’t mean fate has brought us together for you to ear-torture me with asinine commentary.
I know somebody has to have a gun on this train. Please pass it forward!

Being a Tween
Hair is appearing where teacher said it would, but why does it still seem so strange? The raging emotions, hatred of parents, school, food, dogs, pencils, air, the blue sky… not to mention that Justin totally hit on Becky when he knew that Beck and I held hands that one time two weeks ago! Why are adults so lame! What is the point of life! I’m not going to use anything I learn here anyway! I’m just so sad, now elated, now sad! Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Why is it only Tween Nick understands me!

China’s 10-day Traffic Jam
Chris was once in a four hour traffic jam on I-90 back in college when trying to drive from Kalamzoo to Chicago. After the second hour of not moving one foot, people got out of their cars and were hanging out with each other on the freeway. Around the third hour, people were not partying anymore... they were getting pissed. At 3.5 hours, I think I saw people sucking on their tailpipes. But a 10 day, 60 mile traffic jam! Death is much better.

Listening to This:

Dinosaur Parade!
The Lost World awakened in Nick and Chris their boyhood love of dinosaurs. Let’s celebrate by a Internet fueled spectacle known as the RDHP Dinosaur Parade!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Film #37: Paranormal Activity (2009)

When there’s something strange,
In your San Diego neighborhood,
Who you gonna call?
Mark Fredrichs!
Manhattan has the Ghostbusters, and the Diego has Dr. Fredrichs.
Only thing is, instead of showing up with a boss proton pack and a wise-cracking Bill Murray, Dr. Fredrichs shows up to his ghostly-house calls with a tacky sweater and a desire to talk about feelings. Bleck! Where is Slimmer when you need him!

But, Fredrichs does his best to help haunted-home renters Katie and Micah with their poltergeist problem in this week’s flick, Paranormal Activity. At least until he wets himself with fear and runs like a Frenchman.

Katie and Micah are a young couple who just moved into a San Diego home together. Playing house was going great for the two, until Katie's dark, demonic secret came to light. Ever since she was a little girl, Katie has been followed by ghosts… one ghost actually. It liked to watch her while she slept, creepily whisper into her ear, and sometimes yank her covers at night… you know, like Nick used to do repeatedly in the girls dorms at Western Michigan University. How did you think he met Mel?
Since it is hard to place a court order on a spirit, Katie just kind of accepted this mild, creepy annoyance as a “well, what are ya gonna do” factor in her life.

After moving in with Micah, the d-bag “day trader” (need we say more about his assy character) becomes fascinated by his girlfriend's personal Casper, and buys a video camera to try and record some paranormal activity.
His favorite ghost hunting move is to set up the camera in their bedroom with the hope of filming things that go bump in the night (he’d like to catch a spirit on tape as well.) He lets the camera run all night, then reviews the footage.

The hauntings start out small. The bedroom door shuts by itself, then strange bangs and pops are heard off camera.
Encouraged, Micah tries to provoke the spirit to show more of its stuff. But Katie doesn’t want anything to do with it. She’s scared of the ghost, and worried about what it might do if Micah pisses it off.

As the hauntings intensify, Katie calls in the top San Diego ghost specialist, psychic Dr. Mark Fredrichs. After some heartfelt, personal Q and A about her case, Fredrichs determines that this isn’t your average dead person trying to communicate from beyond their dirt nap. This is a muther-fing demon, yo, and Fredrichs wants nothing to do with it!

The house isn’t what’s haunted… it is Katie herself this demon has attached too. The chicken-shrink recommends the couple contact a demonologist who just happens to be out of the country and the moment, then lays down a set of rules. Stop filming and taunting the demon, and never, ever feed it after midnight!

Actually, most importantly, don’t try to directly communicate with it via a Ouija board or other device. That is like telling the demon to come out and play… and play it will.
Being the d*ckhead he is, Micah ignores Fredrich's advice and heads straight for the Ouija board – much to Katie’s dismay.
With the portal of communication open, Mr. Demon finally has a chance to show Kate and Micah just what he can do. And it ain’t pretty.

Behold the power of the first-person ghost tale in 2009’s Paranormal Activity.

RDHP Ratings and Reviews

C-Rating: 4.0
Chris Dimick demon-snorts:
Warning, soapbox alert!

"Reality TV is a cancer in our culture, eating away at our minds and turning young and old into self-centered, show-off, attention-whore, drama queens. Because anyone can be on TV, everyone feels they are entitled to 15 minutes of fame. First-person style movies like Paranormal Activity were born out of this current degradation of popular art. That said, I should have hated this movie and what it stands for. But I just can’t… it was too entertaining.

[Chris falls off his soapbox; hits head on cement; dreams of a land free of The Real Housewives of Kalamazoo; wakes up; continues writing]

Yes, Paranormal Activity and its first-person format celebrates this “look-at-me-ma-I-don’t-got-any reason-but-I’m on-the-TV” obsession gripping America, but this old crank found it okay to look past this flaw for one reason: Paranormal Activity is scary and entertaining.
For once! A modern film was scary!

The first person style of this movie – in which all the camera work was done by the actors themselves in a shaky, reality-TV type way – was perfectly executed and draws in the viewer to its “reality-seeming” world. The camera moves when it should, peeking around dark corners with the actors, and stays still when it should – fixed on the sleeping couple's bedroom as paranormal actions abound. The suspense that is built using this style is unrivaled by most modern storytelling. The first-person effect makes the viewer not only feel criminally voyeuristic, but sometimes sadistic, as it is easy to cheer on the spooky scares that are thrown at our dimwitted, unlikeable main characters.

I can’t believe I’m giving this a 4.0 – it really shouldn't deserve it, for several reasons. Our lead characters Micah and Katie were played by awful, AWFUL actors whose improvising seemed rushed, forced and unnatural. Micah is one of the biggest d-bags I have ever seen on the screen, doing things and making claims only an idiot would do in a similar haunting situation. Half way through the movie I wanted these two to be slayed by their ghostly friend… but in a way that was freeing. Since I no longer cared about these two, I could instead cheer on the demon, who slowly stalked our bumbling lovers. Gotta love it when you root for the bad guy!

Another negative, Paranormal fell victim to the same flaw all other first-person style movies face, and will continue to face as long as they are made. In reality, people would turn off the camera when events got out of control, not continue taping merely to “record what we are experiencing.” At least I hope our society hasn’t devolved into one that values recording their lives for the world to see over their own relationships or safety.

For example, there are scenes captured by Micah’s camera that just would never be taped in the real world. At one point, Katie and Micah have a huge fight about what is happening, how Micah keeps filming, and how she just wants the camera off. That camera would be off. In another, Micah wakes up to find Katie has wandered out of bed and disappeared. If you realized your possibly possessed girlfriend had wandered out of bed in the middle of the night, and seemly disappeared out of the house, would you really steadily control the camera around each part of the house calling your lady’s name. Hell no, you’d be tearing ass all over the place trying to find her… WITHOUT THE CAMERA!

But, some suspension of disbelief is required with all movies… and I’ll grant the first-person style film this free pass if what is going on on-screen makes it worth playing dumb. And Paranormal indeed earned its pass, but not for what happened on screen. It won my praise for what it didn’t show. Much of the “action” occurs off-screen, or is done is such a subtle way that it requires the viewer's imagination to fill in the terror. The key to a great horror movie is to, paraphrasing Steven Spielberg, "not show too much of the shark, because it will eventually look fake.”

The theater of the mind projects the scariest images, and Paranormal leveraged this old trick like a master. Thrown in the universally scary scenario of things happening to you while you are trying to sleep in your comfy, seemly safe bed, and this one will give you chills.

Paranormal was a low-budget success story, a trait that made it ever easier for this flick to steal this indie film-lovers heart. Nothing like a simply made horror movie taking the country by storm, as Paranormal did when it was finally released nationwide in 2009. This film is the current generation's The Blair Witch Project, and opened up the horror genre to millions of Americans. My golf claps for the accomplishment, because what is good for one indie horror movie is usually good for the entire genre. Let’s hope more indie horror films are green-light due to its success.

So okay Paranormal, let's summarize: You had horrible acting, your first-person style is flawed and a rip off (I liked this movie better the first time I saw it when it was called The Blair Witch Project), and you are a product of a section of pop culture I detest. But you know what, you had me smiling for an hour and a half after a hard day at work. And I had bad dreams about you that night.

Bravo sir, you earned your 4.0, warts and all."

N-Rating: 3.5
Nick Rich demon-snorts:
"Paranormal Activity was just plain fun. It didn't show me anything I had never seen before, nor did it give me a life-altering experience... it was just plain fun.

Sure other movies had done the whole 'realism' kick before, and sure other movies had done the whole 'haunting' thing before - but frankly, while I was watching Paranormal Activity I didn't care. It gave me exactly what I was looking for in a movie of its kind: tension.
Now I'm not the kind who frightens easily when partaking of the cinematic arts, so it is extremely rare for a movie to downright scare me. Usually the most I can hope for is a nice bubbling stew of tension that keeps turning up the heat until it eventually boils over - which Paranormal does in spades (David or shovel, take your pick).

Did I miss anything in that scene?
Was that shadow moving?
What will these ridiculous people do next?

Although never fully scared, the film instilled in me an almost constant state of anticipation as the story progressed in a predictable, yet enjoyable fashion. I found myself analyzing each scene in great detail to see if I could spot evidence of spooktacular activity. I was engaged as a viewer, sharing the mission of the characters to eek out any evidence I could of unearthly stirrings - which made this film a ball to watch. Then of course there were the delicious moments of genuine tension... having a sense of what was coming next, but not knowing exactly how it would be executed or when... Paranormal walked that fine line of making the audience wait just long enough to reveal itself (a highly coveted quality in a horror flick).

Paranormal Activity, thank you. You certainly were what you claimed to be, and I hope more movies like you are made (not verbatim mind you, but with the same execution and intent). I even hope more people check you out and enjoy you as much as I did. While you are by no means a work of art or will enrich my life beyond the hour and a half we shared together, your company allowed my mind to roam free on a day where it was repressingly full... and for that, your companionship was most welcome. Who knew having a demon gunning for you could be so relaxing?

The Skinny: Check this flick out if you feel like cuddling with your lady/man or are too cheap to buy the Idiot's Guide: How To Anger A Demon."

Things We Learned from Paranormal Activity:
-Use opened junk mail to safely move spiders outdoors.
-Don't provoke a demon.
-Ghosts don't like humans having relations.
-Girlfriends hate being filmed with a camcorder, especially in the morning.
-In San Diego, people eat on the same side of the table at home.
-Fridge ice makers totally sound like a ghost.
-Married people don't sleep "spooning."
-Women hate when you ask them to make a sex tape. (Well, some don't.)
-Demons sleep during the day.
-When communicating with the dead, try and think of a better question than "What is your favorite color?"
-Baby powder sprinkled on the floor is "beautiful."
-One can be too cute to talk.
-Perfect profession for a douche-bag -- day trader:

San Diego's Most Haunted Places
The Paranormal Activity couple aren't the only haunted things in The Southwest D. Examine this list of Diego sites you won't leave with dry underwear.

The Whaley House
Located in San Diego's Old Town, this house has a long and storied history.
This place has it all: loads of dead bodies nearby (the city's first cemetery), possible camera crews visiting from various TV networks (History, A&E, etc) and midnight tours!
If you've ever wanted to capture a white blip on film, look no further!

Petco Park
For years people complained of all the various ghostly "boooooo" noises coming from the park each spring/summer. But with the help of some miracle working Petco staff this year, the boos magically disappeared, and have been replaced by screams!

Ocean Beach
This beach community is known for being haunted by old hippies.
Careful! They may take your life, or your conservative views...
but will probably just take a nap.

The Gaslamp Quarter
After 2 a.m., you can hear crying, yells and screams of the stumbling damned! Watch, as many projectile spew their ectoplasmic innards into various alleys.

Many a night has been chilled by the echos of "giiiiirrrrllll!" and "hhhheeeeeyyyy!" long after the local bars in this gay friendly neighborhood close their doors.

Things Your Girl/Boyfriend Should Tell You Before Moving In
As Katie's personal demon begins stepping up his scares, live-in-boyfriend Micah tells her it would have been nice if she'd divulged her possession before moving in with him. Not on the first date mind you, but "at least by date 30!" Here we explore other skeletons your significant other should release from their closet before putting their stuff in yours.

You know how I said I went to college for six years. Small correction... substitute college for prison and six years for murder.

My inbred cousin and his six feral children traditionally stay with me for the holidays. Which holidays? Oh, all of them.

I never miss an episode of The Tonight Show.

September 23 marks eight years since I was cured at "People Can Change" camp! Wanna celebrate in Boystown?

My real name is Jim Hoffa IV, but don't go spreading that around New Jersey!

Bread, pasta, veggies, eggs, fruit and water give me horrifically stank night gas.

Ummm, there is a reason you've never seen me with my pants off.

Things NOT to do When
There is a Demon in Your House

Yell at It
Demons don't like being mocked, tough guy.

Leave an Assembled Ouija Board Lying Around
It's like leaving a 5lb bag of open M&M's lying around at a daycare...
Expect things to get tore up!

NOT Call a Demonologist
When you have a problem with something always call the dude with
an 'ologist' after your problem's name.
Plus, these dudes wear tweed (i.e. they are most certainly not to be trifled with).

Use Baby Powder as a Defense
It didn't work for little Joey...
And odds are it will only lead to extreme chaffing - not relief.

Stay in The House "One More Night"
One more night is 15 too many.