10 Movies Meme (Except Not 10)

I was nominated by Mike Myhre for 1 movie a day for 10 days. No explanation, no reviews, just the poster of a film that influenced my love of films.

Except I will give very thorough explanations and reviews.
And I will not ask anyone to do the same. Who needs that kind of pressure?

Day 1: Alien

I’m not sure if I’ve seen this in the theater. In 1979 I was a child (more so than now) but whenever it was that I first saw it, it had a very lasting impression. There are three recurring dreams that I have throughout my life: Bus rides that strand me somewhere; hanging out with Jack Black, and being chased by the xenomorph(s) in Alien. I will always take an alien dream over a bus stranding dream.

I remember three scenes really stood out from my initial viewing as a young man: Sigourney Weaver’s panties (of course); the rattling chain scene where Harry Dean Stanton is looking for Jonesy (weird that there’s so much water on a space ship), and the brutal altercation with Ash.

Oh, and sure, I guess the chest bursting scene.

The film has such masterful pacing, true-to-life characters, incredible set and creature design. Of course H.R Giger was a huge influence on my own art for years, but that’s a different story. They know not to show the alien (although they probably go too far once or twice) and it’s legitimately scary partly because they never really explain where it came from (I’m looking at you Prometheus and Covenant)

It’s a 10/10 for me.

Day #2. Dark Star
Keeping in the same neighborhood as Alien, this weird movie started as a student film by John Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon. It follows the crew of the Dark Star, who are 20 years into their mission to blow up unstable planets that may interfere with colonization. They are very bored and have let themselves go. They bicker amongst themselves or isolate from the rest of the crew. Dan O’Bannon plays Pinback and keeps a video log where he complains about his crew.

The film is alternately brilliant and very boring (one of the crew has set up a kind of bottle-o-phone musical instrument where he plays it badly for several excruciating minutes… but it does put you in the characters mind frame). On the other end, the scene where Lt. Doolittle tries to talk one of the planet-buster bombs out of detonating is not easily forgotten.

The scene with Pinback chasing the beachball alien around the ship inspired him to pen the original screenplay for Alien. I met O’Bannon’s wife at an HPL Convention and she was very friendly.

The uniqueness of this film had a strong affect on me creatively. It partially inspired the creation of the Spaceship Zero album by my band The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets, and the tabletop RPG that came soon after. The idea of a crew that was bored, stir crazy, with big bushy beards who had way too much time on their hands was quite appealing.

I give this film 8/10, which is probably way more than it deserves. But it’s special to me so it gets extra credit.

Day #3: Heavy Metal
For a guy who’s into animation I wasn’t much influenced by Disney or other popular animated films during my childhood. Secret of NIMH might be an exception. I was much more influenced by Saturday morning cartoons.

Heavy Metal on the other hand, definitely was for me. Monsters, mutants, zombies, warriors, magic, and sex. I was into comics and this was connected to that world. I don’t remember exactly when I saw it, but I had a friend who had an extensive amount of DVDs and we hung out a lot watching movie after movie, many of which were probably not age appropriate.

Being an anthology movie, HM had both the advantage and disadvantage of being uneven. If a section wasn’t interesting to me, it would be over in 10 minutes… Voice acting by SCTV actors. Devo and Black Sabbath. Moebius and Richard Corben (with whom I had the pleasure of working with on Spaceship Zero). And ANOTHER Dan O’Bannon connection (that’s three in a row if you’re counting).

Was it a masterpiece? No. But it was cool, and that’s something.

Day #4: Locke

Never would I have thought in a million years that I would be so glued to a 1 hour 25 minute movie that takes place entirely in a car, with the main actor talking to an otherwise unseen cast on speaker phone.

It goes to show how incredibly important writing and acting are to a film. I mean, we all inherently know this (right, 1999 George Lucas?). This is the kind of movie that could be a play. And I like many movies that are also plays (Glengarry Glen Ross, The Big Kahuna)

Now I’m not besmirching the cinematography, direction, editing of this film but it’s certainly an eye-opening exercise in film appreciation, and structure. The phone conversations were recorded in real-time, vehicle and road noise included, and they filmed the movie in 12 takes, two full takes of the film per night over 6 nights. Tom had a cold during this shoot and they worked it into the script. Really quite an achievement.

Oh yeah, Tom Holland plays his son (over the phone, of course)

9/10 from me.

Day 5: Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973)

Really I could say 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), Jason and the Argonauts (1963) Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) or Clash of the Titans (1981). These are all Ray Harryhausen fantasy films that I grew up with. But I will choose Golden Voyage because although there’s monsters to love in all those films (especially the sword fight with the skeletons in Jason) I think Golden Voyage might be the most fantastical, evocative, and threatening of the bunch. The eye tattoo on the hand, the golden-masked Vizier, the animated wooden ship figurehead, the idol of Kali, the centaur vs griffin fight, the invisible wizard (Tom Baker) and the impressive, uh…costume of Caroline Munro…all the elements were in place to foster a love of film trickery, animation, and D&D.

Of course what can you say about the legendary stop motion of Ray Harryhausen? As a kid I gobbled it up…couldn’t get enough of it.

Golden Voyage 6/10
7th Voyage of Sinbad 7/10 (appropriate)
Jason and the Argonauts 7/10
Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger 5/10
Clash of the Titans 4/10

Day 6: Miller’s Crossing

In 1987 Joel and Ethan Coen wrote, produced and directed Raising Arizona. In 1991 they released Barton Fink, which they wrote in 3 weeks when writer’s block prevented them from completing the writing for Miller’s Crossing.

In between these two great films they released this neo-noir tale of two rival gang bosses vying for control of their city, primarily through the machinations of their second-in-commands.

There are few movies I’ve watched as much as Miller’s Crossing. It drew me in upon first viewing with its style, cinematography, characters, and its teasingly impenetrable 20’s slang. That dialogue is part of what makes the movie so dense, but there’s so much more to it. And it’s through these multiple viewings which have allowed me to crack some of the many layers of this movie. One picks up on sound cues in the background that tell you what time of day it is… becoming accustomed to the bombastic violence after the first couple viewings frees up your attention to move towards the more subtle inferences of unseen relationships and other activities that go on before and between scenes, and their connections.

Every character is memorable in their own way, even the small walk-ons, like the fast-talking Steve Buscemi leave a bold impression. And another strong female lead role with Marcia Gay Harden.

And then there’s the score – my introduction to Carter Burwell, who the Coens have used for most of their oeuvre, a perfect fit.

10/10 for me.

Day 7: From the man who brought you Happy Feet and Babe: Pig in the City, comes Mad Max Fury Road.

Really I could have put Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior here.

So…. I don’t love the first Mad Max. It’s fine but it doesn’t get its hooks into me the way Road Warrior and Fury Road do. I love post-apocalyptic films and MM1 isn’t really post-apocalyptic enough for me.

As a storyboard artist, Fury Road is a masterclass in action storytelling. And George Miller, with the help of 5 artists, designed the film in storyboards in 1999 — before even writing the screenplay. It came out as about 3,500 panels, almost the same number of shots as in the finished film. There’s not a lot of dialogue in the film, by design, as Miller wanted the story to play visually, so even if you didn’t speak English (and with no subtitles) you could follow. Visual storytelling, baby! And even as an English speaker, there’s so much post-apoc jargon (and heavy Australian accents) that much of the dialogue went over my head the first time(s) I watched it without subtitles. War boys? Aqua Cola? Fucacima Kamakrazee?

It doesn’t bother me that the Mad Max world isn’t realistic, with gas and bullets being wasted in these souped up cars…the fantasy aesthetic works for me. And the production design is just astounding. All of those cars are working cars. those crazy acrobats are really jumping around on top of moving vehicles, the guitar really blew fire…and it really brings a verisimilitude to that world that other CGI-loaded movies can’t match.

But, Toren, there were 2000 visual effects shots! Well if you’ve watched the special features you know that a lot of those were enhancing landscapes, adding in chains and harpoon lines, getting rid of Charlize Theron’s arm, and other stuff that could never be done in picture. Sure, the giant lightning sand storm was The point is that despite the crazy action and crashes that COULD have been done in post, were done on set, and it illustrates the point of how important that is for a movie’s audience to be engaged on that level. That sort of connection to the real world is very difficult to fake. And I love that.

And that soundtrack! The perfect match for the film. Every track is gold.

My shameful personal story is that based on the first trailers it looked so amazing that I had a genuine fear that I would be let down once I sat to watch it in the theater for the first time. And even as I was watching in the theater, I was waiting, almost scowling, for that let-down moment to come, because it had to, right? It all seemed to good to be true. It’s a modern movie! It’s not going to be better than Road Warrior! …But that moment..after that adrenaline endurance test of a car chase to get away from the starting point, and you’re halfway through the movie, and then you realize the second half of the movie is them going BACK to their starting point and engage the bad guys they just got away from. That’s a ballsy move for any film, and you think it can’t get any stronger than the first chase, and then it does NOT disappoint. When the credits rolled I was in this weird state of mind like “how could I have been so wrong?” So, kudos to George Miller.


Day 8: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

1985 (or a couple years later): I remember renting “Warriors of the Wind” from the video store. Which turned out to be a heavily edited (22 minutes were cut) version of Hayao Miyazaki’s second feature film, set in a post-apocalyptic future filled with toxic jungles and giant insects, where a young woman gets mixed up in a conflict between two warring nations who both want the power of an ancient weapon.

The uncut version of the film would not be available in Canada until 2005. Could it possibly be that I didn’t see the full version until then? I was doing a lot of tape trading during the 90s so maybe I gut the uncut version before I bought the Disney dvd release.

Anyway, there’s so much I love about this movie. The design of the world, the design of the creatures, the design of the flying machines. You really feel the grandeur and of the world, but Nausicaa also makes it intimate, with her connection to it, and the movie takes enough time that you can appreciate the visuals, the sound design…you can almost smell it at times. You feel the power of the war machines and the ancient demon, and how they really outclass the simple farmers in the valley of the wind. And Nausicaa is a great character that you rally behind as much as her townsfolk. But she’s not a Mary Sue either – she has an almost magical connection with animals, and is trying to understand the nature of the toxic forest with science, but she loses control of her temper and has regrets. I identified with her as someone who is just trying to understand the world while getting caught between assholes with their power-grab agendas. But even then this movie, through Nausicaa, brings you close to these characters so that you understand their point of view, if not their actions. And when the shit hits the fan in the last act you are with Nausicaa all the way.

They say that when you are a certain age you are more impressionable and later in your life you remember things more vividly from that time. Perhaps this movie came into my life at the perfect time, and that has influenced my reaction to this film even to this day. But I think the art and the story are really undeniably great. And what a time in my life to learn what I think is the real lesson of this movie (besides the environmentalist message of most of Myazaki’s films): empathy. It’s what Nausicaa is all about, and you kind of want everyone at the end of this film to be okay. But I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it.

And let’s talk about Joe Hisaishi the composer. The film is an interesting mix of orchestral, 80s synth, and a bit of sitar thrown in. Hisaish has done a lot of great scores for Ghibli over the years, but the main theme and The Battle between Mehve and Corvette transport me every time.

I think the one and only thing in the movie that I don’t connect with is the “prophecy” angle. I don’t think it’s necessary, and it bookends the film in a way that kinda sorta feels tacked on a bit.

One of the scores of nerd shops at Nakano Broadway, Kyoto

I’ll add that when I went to Japan last year (specifically Nakano Broadway and various shops in Kyoto) I had the good fortune to see some really amazing models and toys from Nausicaa, which added a whole other layer of appreciation.

In conclusion, 10/10 – most favourite movie of all time.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) stars Sumi Shimamoto. Dir: Hayao Miyazaki