Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Fog (1980)

Part III in a John Carpenter film quest.

Starring: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh, John Houseman, Hal Holbrook
Written by: John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Directed by: John Carpenter

Continuing in the horror genre, John Carpenter follows up his massive Halloween success with The Fog: the story of a small seaside town in the grip of a spooky weather anomaly. But where Halloween was a slasher movie featuring a stalker, The Fog veers down a different path. This time offering more of a ghost story.

The events occur over two nights, centered around the 100th anniversary of Antonio Bay, California. The town is slowly invaded by an unforeseen fog, carrying with it the remains of an old ship (as well as its murdered passengers, out for revenge from an incident that happened 100 years prior). The story is told in essentially three parts: the night before (fog rolls in, town wonders why everything suddenly went haywire), the day of (discovering the damage from last night), and the night of the anniversary (lead characters must solve the mystery and end the curse).

In a direct nod to past horror films, Jamie Lee Curtis headlines the film with real-life mother Janet Leigh (of Psycho fame). Hal Holbrook gives an ominous performance as Father Malone, and Adrienne Barbeau gives some of her best work as the owner of the town's sole radio station.

The movie (like Carpenter's others, up to this point) takes its time establishing the characters and the setting before presenting the primary threat. But where Assault on Precinct 13 exploded at a certain point, and the Halloween did the same toward the end, there is not a sudden quickening of pace in The Fog. Although the movie does feature scenes of distinct shock value (Carpenter's great at eliciting shock from his audience).

At this point in his career, Carpenter is becoming increasingly proficient in the use of music, mood and atmosphere to ratchet up the suspense during tense scenes. Not to mention sound effects to scare the crap out of his audience. The film's inherent strength lies in the creepy atmosphere, with the fog looming as the omnipresent threat.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Halloween (1978)

Part II in a John Carpenter film quest.

Starring: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, Charles Cyphers
Written by: John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Directed by: John Carpenter

John Carpenter became a household name in 1978 with Halloween, his landmark entry into the horror genre. Made on a shoestring budget ($320,000) the film went on to gross nearly fifty million in the U.S. alone, and became the biggest independent movie in history.

Fifteen years prior, six-year-old Michael Myers is locked up in an institution after killing his teenage sister with a butcher knife. On the night he's to be transferred to court (to be tried as an adult), Myers escapes, his psychiatrist Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance) trailing after him.

Myers returns to his childhood home in Haddonfield, Illinois, on Halloween, and proceeds to stalk Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her friends relentlessly. No one knows why, but it's clear Myers will stop at nothing.

Put simply, the movie is horror, in its most raw and purified form. With Halloween, Carpenter proved that he could scare the hell out of his audience without a big budget. Instead of special effects, he uses lighting, sound design, and music to do the work for him. The music - a seemingly simple and unsophisticated piano melody serves to add a distinct mood to the movie, and us used to a very creepy effect. It's a style that punctuates the minimalist approach to the actual film (just as he did with Assault on Precinct 13).

And like the film's style, Carpenter keeps Myers simple. There's no "why" when it comes to Myers - nothing supernatural or outlandish. He's just some kid who snapped. And the fact that we have no reason why he's after Laurie just heightens her role as victim. She's done nothing wrong, nothing to atone for. But he's out to kill her, and there's no reasoning with Myers.

Carpenter's third movie as a director fires on all cylinders. It's spartan, basic and undiluted.

And scary as hell.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

Part I in a John Carpenter film quest.

Starring: Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston, Laurie Zimmer
Written by: John Carpenter
Directed by: John Carpenter

It's been said that the Western would pop up in several movies throughout John Carpenter's career. But his sophomoric effort, Assault on Precinct 13, remains his love letter to the genre.

The story unfolds in the "Anderson ghetto", a gang-ridden neighborhood in South Central Los Angeles. CHP Lieutenant Ethan Bishop (Austin Stoker) is assigned to oversee the neighborhood police precinct on its last night in operation. This is on the same day that the members of Street Thunder have sworn a blood oath against the police, following a raid that kills several of their own. Adding to that (in the grand tradition of coincidence), a prison bus on its way to Sonora is using the precinct as a way station until one of the prisoners can receive medical treatment for a sudden illness ..... thus setting the stage for the night's onslaught.

On the surface, Assault on Precinct 13 is your standard siege movie. Most of the action takes place in and around an aging police station, undermanned and out gunned. But it's the mishmash of genres going on here that sets the movie apart from other actioners of the time: part noir, part exploitation, and part zombie movie (with the largely unseen gang members stalking outside).

And there is the distinct homage to Howard Hawks, as well. Not only to the great Rio Bravo, but also to his entries into the noir genre. Evidenced by the tough-as-nails secretary Leigh (Laurie Zimmer), the anti-hero prison inmate Napoleon Wilson (played by the late Darwin Joston), and even the slashed lighting of the venetian blinds in the station.

And just like the Western, Assault on Precinct 13 takes its time setting up the characters and the locale. If the movie were done today (there was indeed a remake in 2005), much of the slow pace of the first 30 minutes would be sped up, and a lot more would be happening. But in slowing down the pace of the first half, the action breaks out in parts, and becomes one of the movie's distinct strengths. You're not continuously "assaulted" by a siege. But once things get going, the action comes out of nowhere, often relentlessly. And you're left with the all-too-rare feeling of wanting more.


Friday, November 27, 2009

Vampires - Now in moody emo flavor!

Can you believe that there was a point in American history when a large number of people thought of this guy when they heard the word "vampire"?

22 years later:

And The Lost Boys was directed by Joel "Batman and Robin" Schumacher! Can you believe that? The guy who killed the Batman franchise made a better vampire movie than anything we have now! Doesn't that just piss you off?


Hey, anybody wanna see Pattinson meet Sutherland in a dark alley?

C'mon. I can't be the only one.

Happy Black Friday!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Star Trek: The Exhibition at Hollywood and Highland

If you're a Trekkie and love looking at musty old costumes in glass cases, then get ready to part with some greenbacks. Star Trek: The Exhibition is currently running at the Hollywood and Highland complex through Dec. 27th.

I'm not gonna lie - I'm a Trekkie (mostly TNG), and I'd been to the Exhibition when it was at the Queen Mary Dome in Long Beach, last year. The good news is that it's back in Southern California for anyone who missed it. The bad news is that the venue is considerably smaller. There were more than a few attractions that were M.I.A., this time around. Most notably the Original Series bridge (Kirk's chair was there, but it's surrounded by a green screen - so the rest of the bridge is superimposed for photo ops).

The star attraction in this venue is the bridge from The Next Generation - complete with Picard mannequin and clips from this year's Star Trek playing on the viewscreen. It's pretty cool to walk around the bridge - although it was a lot more brightly lit on the actual show (photogs beware).

But to a geek like me, the props are worth the price of admission.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Dark Skies in the Southland

Well it's been five years, and I can finally say I've been to Randy's donuts. Why it's taken me so long, I can't say. But it was definitely worth it. Just the roadside kitsch of it all made me happy to be a residential tourist.

I'll preface this by saying that normally I try to make the L.A. pilgrimage on a day when there's ample SoCal sunshine. Hell, the day started off beautifully, but for some reason on our way home, the overcast rode in like the Four Horsemen (things were going great while I was driving through Long Beach ... Inglewood apparently had other ideas). But that's what made the stop so great. As a card-carrying member of the Dirt People (desert dwellers), we haven't had a drop of moisture in months. Man, I can't even remember the last time we had rain. So just the first sign of a cloudy and/or angry sky just fills my soul with boundless optimism (sure, nothing came of the gray sky, but the false promise is what we live for!).

So in the spirit of wishing for water from the heavens, here's a dreary picture of Randy's Donuts! And should I do a "Roadside California" post in the near future, I'll actually throw in some history behind the place.

Until then, back to the land of brushfires and infertile soil!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Wandering the streets of Old Detroit (locations featured in the movie RoboCop)

"Excuse me, I have to go. Somewhere there is a crime happening."

In scouting the ideal metropolis for the decayed urban landscape of Old Detroit, Dutch import Paul Verhoeven eventually chose the city of Dallas, Texas. Detroit, while it had the seedy underbelly, lacked the futuristic skyline of Dallas. Detroit does make one appearance in the film's opening shot. But aside from the title screen, filming took place almost exclusively in and around Dallas.

And as there was very minimal shooting inside a studio, most of the movie is made up of location filming. As is expected with a 20-year-old movie, some of the buildings are no longer standing. But there are more than a few that you can still drive to.

The bad news is, I've never been to Texas. And it'll be a long while before I do get there. So this entry is kept to mere online sightseeing.

Following the opening Media Break sequence, our first location seen in the film is the Detroit Police Department, which is actually the Old Dallas High School, at. Though no longer used in an educational capacity, the building still stands at 2214 Bryan St. What we see in the film is actually the rear of the school (in Google street view™, look NW from Live Oak St.).

According to Verhoeven in the DVD commentary, the basement of the Police Dept (where the lockers are located) was the real basement of the Old Dallas High School. The main office (where we meet Alex Murphy), was built in an unspecified building.

The film cuts to Bob Morton and fellow OCP execs Johnson and Kinney as they board the elevator to ascend the interior of OCP Headquarters. When the executives step into the elevator, they are actually on the ground floor of the Plaza of the Americas building at 700 N Pearl St. (you can see the interior here). The real building is nowhere near as tall as depicted in the movie. That was done using a matte painting, making the interior of the building appear to be 100 stories tall.

After the brief elevator ride, the executives enter the OCP boardroom, which was a set built on the top floor of the Renaissance Tower, located at 1201 Elm Street. The space is now used as a law library for Winstead Attorneys - but it's notable because, in keeping with the filmmakers' use of practical locations, it's not everyday you see a set built inside a working skyscraper.

We cut to Murphy and his partner while on a coffee break. In reality, the actors are sitting in a parking lot just SW of the KDFW Channel 4 building. The coffee shop (as seen in the film) is a brick building, and there is indeed a brick building at the corner of San Jacinto and Lamar, but other than that, the images from Google Maps™ and Maps Live™ aren't precise enough to pinpoint any closer than that. You can see the Channel 4 building behind Murphy, and judging from the placement of the broadcast tower, they're filming the scene in the block just west of the Channel 4 building (you can see another image here).

The officers' break is interrupted when they get an "all units" call in pursuit of Clarence Boddicker's gang, after an apparent bank robbery. It's been said that this pursuit was filmed on a street running parallel to I-35E (as you can see the Reunion Tower in the background), possibly Houston St. As near as I can place it (judging from the buildings' placement in the scene), they filmed the pursuit on Reunion Blvd E (which becomes Hotel St). Unfortunately, it appears the Dallas Convention Center has been built over that street, and street view doesn't help. And since you see Boddicker's truck both heading towards and fleeing from the Reunion Tower, they filmed the length of the pursuit driving back and forth on Reunion.

Officers Murphy and Lewis trail Boddicker's gang to an abandoned steel mill on the outskirts of town. This location marks the only time production was moved out of Texas for filming. The exteriors of the steel mill (and the officers' entrance therein) were filmed at the (abandoned) Wheeling-Pittsburgh mill, in Monessen, PA. The actual room in which Murphy finds Emil, and where he meets his violent end was filmed at an unspecified building in Long Beach, CA, after production wrapped (according to writer Ed Neumeier).

The Wheeling-Pittsburgh mill was razed in 1989.

While on street patrol, (after Murphy's death and subsequent resurrection as the film's titular character), RoboCop responds to a '415 in progress'. We cut to a woman fleeing her attackers through a parking lot. This lot is located at the corner of S Central Expy & Main St. The building behind her when the chase begins (with the red strip of neon) is the Dallas Public Safety Supply Building. She rounds a corner in front of a brick building (Brajay Salon at 2222 Elm St), and turns screen left to stop in another parking lot with a billboard. This is the SW corner of S Central and Main. This scene features one of the most stark, yet interesting set designs in the movie (the billboard for Delta City). The good news is, the billboard is still standing.

After (violently) dispatching the two would-be rapists, RoboCop proceeds to a hostage situation at City Hall. That building still stands, and was the Old Dallas City Courthouse, located at 2014 Main St. As it was seen in the movie, RoboCop enters through the door on N. Harwood St. (the camera is looking N from the corner of S. Harwood St. and Commerce St.

One of the unfortunate casualties of the last twenty odd years is the Shell Station Emil blows up during his altercation with RoboCop. As of this date, you can still see the gas station standing on Maps Live™ - but Google Maps™ has a barren lot, which means the building was razed in the last two or so years. At any rate, the station stood at the N corner of Ross Ave and Boll St, adjacent to the Dallas Black Dance Theater.

Following the police strike, Boddicker's gang is seen blowing up an electronics store front. This building is still standing and is located at 2548 Elm St, in the Deep Ellum arts district. The dark brick building on the left was used for both 'Smith Electronics', and the strip club.

During the final scene, RoboCop drives to the OCP headquarters for one last confrontation. The exterior of this building is the Dallas City Hall, located at 1500 Marilla Dr. In reality, the actual building isn't a skyscraper (like the interior, the skyscraper appearance was pulled off using a matte painting), but stands at only 7 stories. City Hall was designed by famed architect I.M. Pei, and completed in 1978. The inverted pyramid design, while unique in and of itself, also protects the city employees from the harsh Texas sun.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Comic Con® 2009

First day of Comic Con, and I'm nowhere near San Diego.

Never thought I'd get twitchy.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Crazy 4 Cult: 3D

If there's one thing I'm addicted to, it's the influence of movies on American pop culture: the catchphrases, the toys, the homages, and the general love of cinema we have as Americans.

Over the weekend, while making a run to Golden Apple, the wife and I stopped in at Gallery 1988 for the third annual Crazy 4 Cult art show. The show features over 100 pieces of art paying tribute to cult movies and pop culture in general. The Big Lebowski is one of the more common movies being represented here, along with Pee Wee's Big Adventure, Back to the Future, Goonies, Clerks, Army of Darkness, and Edward Scissorhands (and that's just scratching the surface).

But aside from the amazing artwork, a lot of the fun of this show is just picking out and identifying the movies depicted in these scenes. Where else can you go to geek out this hard for free?

Gallery 1988
7020 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 937-7088

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Chemosphere

On a list of great movie houses, this one sits at the top (right near the Sleeper House, and the Ennis-Brown house). Movie audiences were first introduced to the Chemosphere in Brian De Palma's Body Double (easily the movie's best part). But the house was a feat of engineering twenty years before that.

In 1960, John Lautner was commissioned by engineer Leonard Malin to build a house on a piece of land he inherited in the Hollywood Hills. The property offered sweeping views of the San Fernando Valley, but no solid foundation for a house (not much more than dry rock and a steep hill). Lautner's solution was both rushed and technically impressive: an octagonal structure sitting on a concrete post, several hundred feet above the ground. The residence is accessible by either a lengthy stair climb, or rail car.

If you can make the pilgrimage into the hills (although I wouldn't suggest driving on Mulholland at night), it's definitely worth it. Just making the turn onto Torreyson Drive and seeing the space ship hovering in the trees makes this one of the most surreal and amazing sightseeing trips L.A. has to offer. The Chemosphere is located at 7776 Torreyson Drive, just off Mulholland Drive.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Garcia House

Anyone who's seen Lethal Weapon 2 knows this house. Riggs (Mel Gibson) tied his truck to one of the support beams and proceeded to rend the structure from its very perch on the hillside.

Built in 1962, the Garcia House was designed by famed architect John Lautner. Located at 7436 Mulholland Drive, the house hovers over the hillside, using two V-shaped beams planted in the ground. This cantilevered approach is not uncommon in the Hills, where houses literally hang over the edge of the hill, seemingly suspended in space. Along with the Chemosphere (Malin House), this is a great example of California Modern architecture - shaped, in part, by Lautner.

You can see the front of the house while driving on Mulholland Drive, but this picture was taken from La Cuesta Dr., just southwest of the Mulholland.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Jeff Bridges' apartment in TRON

In the movie TRON, Jeff Bridges' character, Kevin Flynn, lives in a small apartment over an arcade he runs in his spare time.

Most of the filming locations used in the movie are in Northern California. But for Kevin Flynn's apartment, they used a modest brick building in Culver City. On the commentary, Director Steven Lisberger mentions the building was across the street from the old MGM lot, which is now the Sony Studios.

Not much has changed since 1982. The only thing missing is the 'Flynn's Arcade' sign above the arched windows. The building is located at the corner of Washington Blvd and Watseka Ave (just down the street from Sony).

Monday, July 6, 2009


A little off-topic, I realize, but if you get the chance to see this movie, it is very well worth it.

The film shares thematic similarities with 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, and RoboCop that are both mesmerizing and heartbreaking.

Sam Rockwell plays astronaut Sam Bell, a technician mining the dark side of the moon for clean fuel to ship back to Earth. Except for a computer named Gerty (the very obvious H.A.L. connection), he is completely alone. The only interaction with humans being pre-recorded messages sent from his wife and baby on Earth. He spends his spare time carving a miniature wooden model of small town, hitting a speed bad, and maintaining his fraying nerves.

After an accident on the lunar surface, Sam is revived by Gerty in the infirmary, only to see a mirror image of himself watching over him. An anomaly that brings with it mystery, and some much-needed human interaction for Sam in his closing days on the Moon.

The movie is remarkable for (if nothing else) Rockwell's performance of Sam. And another Sam. He literally carries the movie on his shoulders. The only other faces we see are on pre-recorded video. The only skin contact he has is with himself (in more ways than one). Rockwell is truly an underrated actor and worth the price of admission.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Who Framed Roger Rabbit locations

The first location in the movie is Ren-Mar Studios, standing in for Maroon Cartoons. A more detailed history can be found here, but the studio gained fame in 1953 when it became Desilu Productions. And since then, it's been home to many television productions and music videos. This picture was taken in 2006, and even today, the studio doesn't look much different than it appeared in the film.

After his meeting with R.K. Maroon, Eddie is seen boarding a trolley back to the Valiant Detective Agency. His office building still stands, although much of the street as changed dramatically (and with the fire damage seen in the picture, it's amazing it's still standing, at all). The Terminal Bar across the street is no more. In its place now stands a parking structure. And much of the surrounding area (only a few blocks southeast of The Staples Center) continues redevelopment.

Later in the film, as Eddie and Roger escape from the Weasels, Benny the Cab hops a bridge and speeds off. This is the Hyperion Bridge, in Glendale. As pictured, the bridge hasn't changed much in appearance from 1988.

Rounding out the last of the L.A. locations in the movie is the River Road Tunnel, serving as the entrance to Toontown. The tunnel is located on Vermont Canyon Rd (you'll drive through it on your way up to the Observatory). A little set dressing was used on the mouth of the tunnel for the Toontown entrance, and it still looks like it did when the movie was released.

My directions for getting to the Tunnel were from Los Feliz Blvd. From Los Feliz Blvd, go north on N. Vermont Ave., which will become Vermont Canyon Rd. when you pass the Greek Theater. Stay on this road through a few twists and turns, and you will approach the Tunnel.

The tunnel was also used in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension (Peter Weller zooms out the opposite end on a Harley), and again in
Zemeckis' next feature, Back to the Future Part II (this is where Biff tries to run down Marty in the Ford).