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A big lover of all types of media, from Movies to Video Games, Books to Music, Television to Stage.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Movies About Trains, And Weird Classics

Odd title, I know, but basically I'm posting the equivalent of two posts together today.  Neither topic has a lot of stuff regarding them, so together they'll make one big post!

First, there is my problem with train movies.  I just watched "Unstoppable" with my family this past weekend, on Blu-Ray in the comfort of my own home.  I enjoyed the flick, sure, and am glad we have it on disc (though the fact that we bought it before watching it on any Pay TV channel is not typical of my buying habits), but I finished the movie a bit disappointed.  Not as disappointed as I was at the end of "Runaway Train (1985)," mind you, but still not as pleased with the flick as I could have been.  The reason is simple, and it is that for a ll the tension of a train going crazy-fast through a mostly urban setting, there was virtually no loss of life or property damage to speak of.  Now, I know this is based on a true story, and I've done my research, so here are links to two accounts of the REAL events that 'inspired' the film:  One from Answers.com, and the article from CNN.com.  Really, the actual event just was not that thrilling or dangerous.  Yes, two cars had the chemical mentioned in the movie, and yes, the conductor of the train was a twit who forgot to change a switch until the engine was almost at it, but 70 mph through residential towns and a threat of derailment into a fuel yard?  Not even close.  So, I figure, if Hollywood was willing enough to change the flick that dramatically, why the hell didn't they go all out?

Truth is, it has been a long time since a train movie has actually caused real destruction or death within the confines of the storyline.  The two best known by myself personally are 1976's "Silver Streak" and "The Cassandra Crossing."  Odd that both these films came out the same year, but no matter.  Both of these are train-based films, with wildly different storylines.  "Silver Streak" is about a theft that turns into a murder, and ends with a train smashing into Chicago's downtown terminal; "The Cassandra Crossing" involves a bunch of train passengers being infected with a bacterial plague, and through a convoluted series of events ends with half of the train going across a bridge not used since 1948, which collapses and kills everyone on board.  Now, realizing that these films are as of this writing 35 years old, I have to wonder what an actual train disaster movie would look like now that technology can do so much more today.  The truth of the matter is that Hollywood seems to think that unless the entire world is threatened (Think "Knowing" and "2012"), disaster flicks don't work.

The funny thing is, unless something tangible is destroyed, disaster movies don't work at all, and that's why 1985's "Runaway Train" sucks so bad.  All movie we're anticipating that this train cannot be stopped, no way, not possible, and the entire audience is poised for an incredibly destructive ending.  Then, as we slip into the final minutes, Jon Voight gets up on the lone engine, stands stoically facing his impending doom in the crash we've all been waiting for and...fade.  WHAT?  FADE?  Are you freaking KIDDING ME??!!?  Look, I know that I am in the minority on this, and that other websites rave about this flick from an Oscar standpoint, but I want to see an engine fall off a cliff, damnit!  Yes, I know that the final crash isn't technically 'needed' at this point, and that the movie is more an intellectual drama than anything else...but I was still let down by this ending.  Then again, due to my feeling of despondency regarding it, I haven't actually watched it through the eyes of an adult, one who appreciates drama on a different level than a teenager (I was 14 when the flick came out), so maybe I'll watch it again, and decide if my thoughts remain the same.

Bottom line, however, is that if I'm paying to watch a train cause destruction when running unmanned at high speed, I need more than a derailed engine, a flipped trailer, and a plowed-through boxcar.  Trains rock, and all I'm asking for is a throwback to when destruction for destruction's sake was cool!

Now then, on to the second of today's topics: Weird Classic Films.  This is a genre I have created myself, and for those who know me personally.  In this genre, I place all the films that are so damn offbeat that you either loathe them or love them immediately after viewing them, and so unusual overall that they deserve placement in the genre I've made for them.  The first I'll mention is one I just finally got on DVD via my lovely wife, and that is 1991's "Nothing But Trouble."  Weird flick this, about people trapped in a town ruled over by a reeve who chooses to slaughter anyone he perceives as a 'banker' due to his family's losses during the Great Depression.  All this reads like a bad horror novel, but it is in fact a comedy, one which got horrible reviews but has become a minor cult hit.  Odd, weird, stars Chevy Chase, Dan Ackroyd, Demi Moore, and features Tupac when he was still with digital underground.  Great, offbeat comedy, but most certainly not for everyone.  Nor is my next choice, "Transylvania 6-5000."  Somehow this one is even more weird, with two tabloid reporters being sent to Transylvania to unearth a 'Frankenstein' story with which to sell papers.  They unwittingly stumble upon most of the old Hammer movie cliches, including a wolfman, a Jekyll and Hyde scientist, and a sex-crazed vampira.  Through all of this, an oft-rung telephone plays the chorus to the old song the title is based upon, keeping the gag running throughout the movie.  Including Jeff Goldblum, Ed Begley Jr., Micheal Richards, Carol Kane, John Byner and Geena Davis as the aforementioned vampira, the cast is quite diverse comically, and for me personally makes the movie work as a mindless laugh, not too be taken seriously in any way whatsoever.

The other two odd little titles I want to mention almost fall into the category of overlooked classics.  The first is Mel Brooks' "High Anxiety," a tribute to Alfred Hitchcock's brilliant career in psychological horror.  The film is hilarious, starring Brooks himself, and lampooning to various degrees the majority of Hitchcock's films, focusing mainly upon "Vertigo" but with nods to "Psycho," "The Birds," "North By Northwest" and a multitude of others.  This movie marked Brooks' first speaking role (in "Silent Movie" he was, well, silent), and Hitchcock himself apparently sent Brooks a bottle of wine in appreciation for the film.  If you know your Hitchcock, and have a sense of humour, this film is made for you.  The final movie I want to mention today, though this is by no means the end of my list of twisted little gems, is "Blame It On The Bellboy."  Now, here we have a typical British comedy of miscommunication and mistaken identity.  The movie stars quite a pile of famous British and Australian actors, including Dudley Moore, Bryan Brown, Richard Griffiths, Penelope Wilton and also starring Bronson Pinchot as the titular Bellboy.  The movie shows off Venice beautifully, and is exactly the type of farce you'd expect from such a great cast of comedic actors (except for Bryan Brown of course, best known in North America for his roles in the two "F/X" movies.

There are quite a lot of other movies I consider to be a part of my Weird Classic genre, but I want to save them for another day, rather than have this post suddenly expand to fill a ridiculous amount of space.  If you feel that there are other titles you'd like to hear my opinion on in regards to trains or oddness, feel free to leave a comment below, and I shall address them in a future post.  For now, however, I shall head into the sunset, with a final request that, as always, you keep some popcorn warm for my return.

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