Decades Blogathon – The Craft (1996)

Featured Image -- 60491996 2It’s the penultimate day of the Decades Blogathon – 6 edition – hosted by myself and Tom from Digital Shortbread! I’ll say it again, make sure to check out Tom’s blog; it’s the best you’ll find around these parts. The blogathon focuses on movies that were released in the sixth year of the decade. Tom and I are running a different entry each day (we’ll also reblog the other’s post) and it’s time to welcome Maddison from The Final Scene. Maddison casts her spell on the 1996 teen horror The Craft.

I can’t express how badly I wanted to be a witch in my early teen years. I surrounded myself with purple crystals, burning candles and glittery spell books from the marked down book bins.

The 1990s seemed to be the idyllic age of witchcraft in pop culture, welcoming such films and shows like Hocus Pocus, Practical Magic, Charmed, Buffy The Vampire Slayer and even Sabrina The Teenage Witch. In an era of supernatural melodrama, in 1996 Andrew Fleming delivered the campy teen witch thriller The Craft.

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The Craft focuses on Catholic prep highschool newcomer Sarah (Robin Tunney), who finds herself falling in with a trio of outcast teenage girls who practice witchcraft. Dubbed as ‘The Bitches Of Eastwick’, everything about these witchy teens encapsulate the essence of the ’90s. The Craft is a celebration of adolescent nonconformity and independence; an imposing fable of the age old guidance of what comes around goes around. Riddled with teen angst and garish special effects, the entertainment value is guiltily grandiose.

For those hesitant to step into the horror genre, The Craft is the perfect entry as it is not really scary at all. Aside from some creepy crawly fun in the final act, the film stays rather grounded in the world of teenage antics and the loyalty of sisterhood.

The Craft

My inner teenage self will never not enjoy this movie and I can’t not watch this film without a stupid cheesy smile on my face. Put aside the obvious flaws, like the vanity of their spells cast for the enjoyments of boys, beauty and riches. Don’t waste your time getting offended and just embrace the iconic giddy wickedness of witchy war!

Let’s no forget, The Craft introduces us all to Neve Campbell and Skeet Ulrich before they popped up in the iconic 1996 Wes Craven cult classic Scream.

The Craft

Embrace your inner wiccan and remember the moral of the story – don’t ever f**k around with the magic, that shit comes back threefold.

“We are the weirdos mister”

Decades Blogathon – About Last Night (1986)

Featured Image -- 60321986We’re in the final(ish) straight of the Decades Blogathon – 6 edition – hosted by myself and the legend that is Tom from Digital Shortbread. The blogathon focuses on movies that were released in the sixth year of the decade. Tom and I are running a different entry each day (we’ll also reblog the other’s post) and today I’m pleased to welcome Gill from the colourfully titled Realweegiemidget, who rewinds back to the ’80s for About Last Night (1986).

In a bid to narrow it down to a specific movie and after much deliberation, I decided on reviewing a film I could gitter for 700+ words. Options included the much reviewed The Breakfast Club (1985) starring Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy and Judd Nelson – hell yeah, punches fist in air – or as my friend in blogging suggested a lesser known one – Oxford Blues (1984) with Rob Lowe and Ally Sheedy – in a word, nope. So luckily, the Finnish television schedule took the decision out of my hands showing the Brat Pack romance and, therefore, weeper About Last Night (1986).

This film was based loosely on David Mamet’s one scene play Sexual Perversity In Chicago. About Last Night has Brat Packers, Rob Lowe – graduate of Brat Pack films Class (1983) St Elmo’s Fire (1986) and The Outsiders (1983) – and Demi Moore – also from St Elmo’s Fire, Blame It On Rio (1984) and Wisdom (1986) – starring as Danny and Debbie, the two main romantic leads. They are supported by the younger Belushi brother, Jim and Stockard Channing Elizabeth Perkins in her debut role as Debbie’s best girly friend Joan.

About Last Night Poster

On reading that Jim Belushi had been playing the part of Bernie, Danny’s best buddy, on stage made me puzzled as to why his brother John was considered for this role, especially as it would have been with Dan Aykroyd as Danny. As darlin’ husband put it “Emmett and Jake don’t do Brat Pack” – referring to their roles in the Blues Brothers (1980) – in his best Machete (2010) adapted line. Luckily, John passed it up, saying his brother should have the role. Because that particular pairing would be totally wrong, at all levels.

The story tells of how Danny initially meets Debbie at a water fountain at a baseball game, they meet later in a bar and there is an instant attraction as, tbh they are the most photogenic in the room. Possibly as he hasn’t a mullet and her a dodgy perm. They flirt and have what turns into a meaningful one night stand following a totally sexy moment with headphones.

Debbie is dating her “1980s douchebag boss” but this is not a sequel to St. Elmo’s Fire as some people believe. Their buddies have also pulled. Bernie brags and no doubt embellishes about his love life – although no film evidence to support this – and Joan who appears to have the start of a queue of meaningless one night stands throughout the movie. So Dan meets Debbie again and this led to montage no 1, sponsored by the Chicago Tourist Board, which I will name… Date in Chicago. Danny and Debbie hit it off out of bed too and he tells her of his dream of opening a restaurant.

About Last Night

As this is the 1980s much of the characters’ conversation and plot is over the landline where we note that Joan is a kindergarten teacher. Don’t believe those who tell you that’s the Poltergeist (1982) kid in the first kindergarten scene with her. This fact led to darlin’ husband becoming daring husband by riffing this, stating she would have possibly been teaching Demi’s future husband and toyboy by 13 years Ashton Kutcher. This proved true after consulting the internet and doing the maths; Ashton would have been seven going on eight on the film’s release. The men work together and Danny is especially discouraged in his job.

My favourite scene, however is where Perkins explains about the Virgin Mary to her kindergarten class. This is reminiscent of, but much more funnier than the Scottish TV programme series, Chewin’ the Fat’s sketch on the same topic. Anyway, after lots of flirting, sex and snogging Danny shows his commitment to Debbie by giving her a drawer at his place to keep her stuff in. Despite her mock jesting, this really is a big deal for her. The couple then move in together leading to the second montage, the one where they move in together and lots and lots of this particular couple’s tits and asses, not just Lowe’s, lots of tears and even more montages…

Rob Lowe is lovely in this film. He shows he can play nice romantic guys and I liked him more in this than his character in St. Elmo’s Fire, where he was 1980s douchebag personified complete with saxophone solo and dodgy earring. Rob didn’t have either in this film, much to my relief. Certain Hollywood actors should just not do earrings – please take note Harrison Ford and Bill Paxton.

About Last Night

To be fair none of the characters were likeable in St. Elmo’s Fire and don’t get me started on Andie McDowall ruining this movie because, to be fair, she did only really contribute to its failure. Lowe had more chemistry with Demi than he had with Mare Winningham in that particular movie, which is just as well as they spend quite a lot of the film in the nude in plenty of ‘are they aren’t they’ moments. Moore is equally sweet and she probably gave Scarlett Johansson a masterclass on how to turn a man into a gibbering wreck with a husky voice as Demi is fantastic at this.

Although the film is, according to some sources allegedly not meant to be comedic Perkins and Belushi are extremely amusing, especially Perkins who is particularly good at being deadpan. Belushi is irreplaceable as best friend Bernie and easily in one of his best roles. These characters hate each other and their friend’s choice of partner from the get go and, despite meeting up several times continue to hate each other throughout the movie which is a refreshing change from the more predictable cliché.

Although formulaic and a romance by the numbers, the film ends to the ‘will they, won’t they’ moment (for what you’ll have to watch and find out) at the end which I hate. OK, you can make your own individual ending. I had them married and moving to Little Rock, Arkansas and husband probably didn’t. But as it ends at a softball game, you could put the film on a loop and rewatch it adfinitum or go home feeling frustrated or happy with your ending

About Last Night

Despite the film being made in the 1980s, Moore’s jumper and silk shirt collection are so of that decade it has so much more staying power than St. Elmo’s Fire. I believe there is a remake made a couple of years back, but I don’t really enjoy remakes and believe in particular that 1980s remakes shouldn’t ever be remade, especially classics such as Red Dawn (1984). The remake in 2012 may have Thor Chris Hemsworth, but even if he was shirtless throughout the whole movie I just couldn’t watch it.

Other point in case, in Total Recall‘s 2012 version – Colin Farrell is no Arnie Schwarzenegger. What I would prefer is as a complete romantic is my darlin’ husband’s idea for the director’s cut version, where the film About Last Night is renamed “About Last Year” and it’s plot a bit like Groundhog Day (1993) complete with ice statues.

OK, I did cry at About Last Night, but it’s more romance than rom-com. “As for the scenes of a sexual nature”… if you want to see more of Moore, how Lowe can you go…

Decades Blogathon – The Battle Of Algiers (1966)

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Welcome to another day of the event of the year: the Decades Blogathon – 6 edition – hosted by myself and Tom from Digital Shortbread! The blogathon focuses on movies that were released in the sixth year of the decade. Tom and I are running a different entry each day (we’ll also reblog the other’s post) and for Super Tuesday it’s the turn of Marta from Ramblings of a Cinephile, who turns her sights on the masterpiece that is The Battle Of Algiers (1966).

The gritty and rather bloody story of the uprising that led to the independence of Algeria in 1962 is shot by Gillo Pontecorvo in a compelling style.

Commissioned by the Algerian government less than a decade after the facts, it shows both sides in an unforgiving way – from the terrorist attacks of the Algerian militants to the tortures of the French army. Pontecorvo plunges the viewer in the middle of the action starting his tale with a raid of the French paratroopers to hunt down the last leader of the FLN (National Liberation Front), holed up in the Casbah, the Muslim district of Algiers.

The whole sequence is very gripping thanks to the amazing music by Ennio Morricone and introduces two of the main characters: Colonel Matthieu (Martin), who is in charge of quelling the rebellion and Ali La Pointe (Hadjadi), prominent leader of the FLN. From there it goes back to the beginning of the story, in 1954, with the recruitment of Ali, at the time a small-time con artist, by Djafar (Saadi), one of the leaders of the FLN.

Through Ali’s eyes we see how the liberation movement grows and how the violence escalates from individual attacks on policemen to bombing cafes and restaurants in the affluent European district. The viewer is also shown the reactions from the French, both sanctioned and unsanctioned by the government in Paris. The use of force is, of course, met with more violence until the situation is so dire that the army is sent to deal with it.

A contingent of paratroopers led by General Carelle arrives in Algiers in 1957, but the real, hands-on commander is Colonel Matthieu, veteran of WWII and the war of Indochina. He puts his experience to good use and slowly but surely dismantles the FLN, working his way through the organisation with ruthless efficiency; either killing or capturing its members and compelling information with torture. This fight without quarter seems to be over in Algiers since there are no more FLN militants, but rebels keep resisting in the mountains.

Algeria will gain its independence four years later mostly due to widespread popular demonstrations and the support of the UN, the latter due to a shift in the international public opinion that will become more sympathetic towards the Algerians and their plight.

What I find very interesting about this film is that it’s partially based on the memoirs of Yacef Saadi, who was a leader of the FLN, but it’s even-handed. It doesn’t demonise the French domination; the facts are presented in a detached way with a very effective documentary-like style.

It’s rather striking that, commissioned by the government of the newly independent Algeria, it avoids any bias and presents the events in stark but impartial light. It’s even more striking that the only professional actor is Jean Martin and none of the scenes are from newsreels but they are all carefully planned and shot to create the right effect.

Pontecorvo, his cinematographer Marcello Gatti and his editors Mario Morra and Mario Serandrei give us a true work of art.

Decades Blogathon – Casino Royale (2006)

Decades Blogathon Banner 20162006It’s week two of the Decades Blogathon – 6 edition – hosted by myself and the awesome Tom from Digital Shortbread! The blogathon focuses on movies that were released in the sixth year of the decade. Tom and I are running a different entry each day (we’ll also reblog the other’s post) and I’m thrilled to welcome the one and only Ruth from FlixChatter. I’m sure many of you will know of Ruth’s brilliant site and for our little event she is reviewing Daniel Craig’s first foray into the world of Bond with 2006’s Casino Royale.

I can’t believe it’s been a decade since Casino Royale came out. I just rewatched it this weekend to refresh my memory, though I had probably rewatched it a few times in the last 10 years. It’s still as good as the first time I saw it, and I still would regard it as one of my favorite Bond films… ever.

I’ve mentioned Casino Royale so many times on my blog, in fact it’s one of my fave films of 2000s and one of the eight films I’d take with me if I were stuck on a desert island.

Casino Royale Poster

Like many Bond fans, I too had trepidation about Daniel Craig’s casting (too blond, too short, etc) but of course we’re all proven wrong the second he appeared on the pre-credit scene. Craig might not be the most good-looking Bond actor (and he is the shortest), but he more than made up for it in charisma AND swagger.

Apart from Craig’s brilliant casting, it’s the story that makes this film so re-watchable. It’s not only a great Bond film, it’s a great film, period. An origin story of sort, James Bond goes on his first ever mission as 007 and he doesn’t get off on the right foot with M right away. The scene when M berates Bond when he breaks into her flat is intense but humorous, a perfect balancing act the film continuously plays throughout. It’s not the first time we see the venerable Dame Judi Dench as M, but I must say I LOVE the banter between her and Craig even more.

A great Bond film has to have an effective adversary and we find that in Mads Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre, a cold-looking Scandinavian with a bleeding eye. It would’ve been a silly gimmick if not played carefully, but here Le Chiffre is a cool and ominous villain. The fact that he’s really not a mastermind in the likes of Blofeld or Drax, but the fact that he’s not hellbent in ruling or destroying the entire world is frankly refreshing. He is a banker to the world’s terrorists, and so his only motive is money, like most of real world villains are.

Casino Royale

And a great Bond film also needs a memorable Bond girl. Well, Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd is perhaps the hottest cinematic accountant ever. “I’m the money”, she quips the first time she enters the screen and into Bond’s heart. To this day I’m still enamored by the train scene to Montenegro, the way Bond and Vesper banter each other with wit and sexual undercurrents is what Bond movies are all about. Vesper is no bimbo and that automatically makes her a bazillion times more intriguing than bombshells in lesser Bond movies.

Casino Royale isn’t big on gadgetry and as a longtime Bond fan I actually didn’t mind it. It’s got everything else one would expect in a Bond movie – the cars, the exotic locations, the suspense, action and quick wit – it’s all there. Compared to Craig’s Bond movies, the Roger Moore versions feel more like a drama given how relentless and vigorous all the action sequences are.

The opening parkour/free running scene apparently took six weeks to shoot and my goodness, I’m out of breath just watching it! This is one sprightly Bond and Craig did most of his own stunts, so it looks believable that he was the one doing the action in the movie. He reportedly has the injuries to prove it too! The car chase wasn’t overlong, but dayum was it memorable. The scene where the Aston Martin misses Vesper by a hair and rolls over multiple times still takes my breath away every time I see it.

Casino Royale

But all of that action stuff wouldn’t have mattered much without a grounding story. I think the last time Bond was genuinely romantic and emotional was On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which was when Bond fell in love. The scene of Bond tenderly comforting Vesper in the shower is one of my favorite scenes in all of the Bond films. There is nothing erotic or sexual in this scene, instead it packs an emotional wallop that makes the Bond/Vesper relationship one of the best and most convincing romances in a Bond movie. The love story in Casino Royale is core to the plot and is woven perfectly into all the espionage intrigue.

Vesper: “You’re not going to let me in there, are you? You’ve got your armour back on. That’s that.”

Bond: “I have no armour left. You’ve stripped it from me. Whatever is left of me – whatever is left of me – whatever I am – I’m yours.”

Bond films are known for being eye and ear candy and this probably ranks as one of the most beautifully shot. The scenery in Venice as Bond strolls in the Grand Canal is especially striking, topped off by the intense fight scene in a crumbling house (shot at Pinewood Studios modeled after Venice’s Hotel Danieli). The soundtrack ranks as one of the best as well, done by David Arnold with an homage to the legendary composer John Barry. I can’t get over how much I love the track City Of Lovers, which I’ve highlighted for my Music Break here.

Casino Royale

Per IMDb, this was the first James Bond movie to be based on a full-length Ian Fleming novel since Moonraker 27 years prior. GoldenEye‘s director Martin Campbell helms the film from a screenplay from Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis. I wish Campbell would be back in the director seat again as his previous two Bond films rate as one of my all time favorites.

There’s so much style and sophistication in abundance here, but never at the expense of story and character. What I also love is that the quieter moments in the movie are still just as intriguing as the high-octane action scenes. That poker game in Montenegro is brimming with elegance as well as suspense, whilst showcasing the film’s excellent production design and costume design. Vesper’s plunging purple dress is a real head-turner and I don’t think Craig has looked more suave than in his tuxedo that Vesper tailor-makes for him.

I really can go on and on about this movie as it’s really a masterpiece in the 50 years of James Bond films we’ve got so far. It also made me even more dismayed that the recent film in which the plot directly follows on from this one was such a downgrade. Looking back at Casino Royale‘s fantastic finale with Bond introducing himself to Mr White, I expected SO much more than what they gave us with Spectre.

Decades Blogathon – The Ten Commandments (1956)

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1956Welcome to day three of the Decades Blogathon – 6 edition – hosted by myself and the one and only Tom from Digital Shortbread! The blogathon focuses on movies that were released in the sixth year of the decade. Tom and I will run a different entry each day (we’ll also reblog the other’s post); and today we feature this excellent contribution from Mark at Fast Film Review – Cecil B. DeMille’s epic The Ten Commandments.

This lavish, Technicolor extravaganza shot in VistaVision is Cecil B. DeMille’s last and most celebrated work. Remaking his own 1923 black and white silent movie, The Ten Commandments is a sumptuous religious epic.

Pure soap opera is woven into the Old Testament story about a man whose perspective changes when he realises his true origins. Few films have attained such an unqualified level of sheer excess. Over the course of almost four hours, the picture dramatises the life of Moses. That the script treats this topic with only the most holy reverence,is never a question.

Ten Commandments Poster

A viewing is akin to a religious experience. However, it presents its subject with such unrestrained grandiloquence that at times the exhibition verges on pageantry. Nevertheless, the drama is an unqualified success.

Two mesmerising performances highlight the saga. Charlton Heston is front and centre as the main character. He embodies every bit the part with honour and authority. DeMille had been responsible for his breakthrough as a circus manager in The Greatest Show On Earth. As successful as that picture was, The Ten Commandments would prove to be much more iconic.

The Ten Commandments

“Let my people go!” he demands in one of his signature lines. Matching Heston for sheer magnetism as his arch nemesis is Yul Brynner as the Pharaoh Rameses II. He will not relent, seemingly ending every proclamation with “So let it be written, so let it be done”. For Brynner, 1956 was a phenomenal year. The Ten Commandments was sandwiched right between The King And I which had come out three months prior and Anastasia which was two months away. His subsequent Oscar win for playing the King of Siam overshadowed his work here. It was well deserved but Yul is quite extraordinary as the unrelenting pharaoh.

This is Heston’s film but Brynner’s importance cannot be underestimated. He is a charismatic villain yet he engenders some sympathy. One would not expect a ruler who advocates slavery to have any redeeming qualities. A scene where he pleads with a statue of a falcon-headed Egyptian god to resurrect his firstborn son has an unexpected emotional nuance.

Cecil B. DeMille doesn’t know the meaning of moderation and thank goodness for that. Ornate sets, crowds of extras, special effects; it is a magnificent spectacle unlike any other. A director with a well-tended ego, he even appears as himself at the beginning. Perhaps in an effort to silence critics over the liberties he took with the story, he freely admits that the narrative is compiled from sources that include other ancient texts.

The Ten Commandments

Occasionally the script veers into unintentionally hilarious dialogue; perhaps chief among them, “Oh, Moses, Moses, you stubborn, splendid, adorable fool!”. These actual words are uttered by Anne Baxter as Nefertiri, a part enhanced by her lustily exaggerated dramatics. She’s joined by a host of solid supporting performances, including blacklisted actor Edward G. Robinson in a comeback role. He is memorably evil as Dathan, the unethical Israelite who betrays his own people.

There’s sultry Yvonne DeCarlo as Moses’ loyal wife Sephora – this was before achieving TV fame as Lily Munster. The young slave Joshua is played by actor John Derek, later known for launching the career of wife Bo Derek, and Jewish slave girl Lilia is portrayed by ’50s starlet Debra Paget. Even Vincent Price and John Carradine show up in minor roles.

The Ten Commandments is certainly extravagant – it was the most expensive film ever made up to that point. All exterior shots were actually photographed on location in Egypt. It employs a cast of thousands with 70 speaking parts. In an era where they really had to hire all of those people you see in the background, this was truly an epic undertaking. No computer animation – this is all practical effects.

The Ten Commandments

In a surprising bit of restraint, only three of the 10 plagues are depicted: the water turning into blood, thunder and hail storm  and the killing of the oldest sons. The latter features an Angel of Death imagined as a thick, green mist that creeps through the streets claiming the lives of Egypt’s firstborn sons. As memorable as that was, it pales next to one of the greatest special effects sequences of all time that follows the Exodus of over 12,000 extras. The production culminates in Moses’ parting of the Red Sea in the climatic scene. Even now it’s a visual feat to be admired.

It was nominated for seven Academy Awards winning one for Best Visual Effects. To this day, the movie is the sixth most successful ever when adjusting for inflation. It remains the yardstick by which all biblical stories must be measured.

P.S. I’m well aware Ben-Hur is technically set during biblical times but it’s still not a biblical story.