Thursday, March 13, 2014

Taylor Dayne’s “Tell It to My Heart” on New Year’s Eve 1987

On the night of December 31st, 1987, I attended a New Year’s Eve party with my parents and my sister. The party was being held at the home of some friends of my parents. There was a fairly large number of people there. During the length of the party, the grownups were in both the living room and the family room, while a group of us kids were hanging out in the master bedroom.

I recall that the windows in that bedroom had gold-colored vertical blinds, which looked somewhat gaudy and tacky. But, seeing those blinds would nonetheless inspire me (years later) to get silver/metallic vertical blinds for my own bedroom. There was also a big-screen tv set in that room. So, we spent most of the night just watching tv, flipping through the channels, and talking about various things. We saw part of the movie called Wildcats (starring Goldie Hawn). We also watched some of the music videos that were being shown on MTV.

One of those videos happened to be for the song “Tell It to My Heart” by Taylor Dayne. And although all of us who were in the room had heard the song before, none of us had actually seen its video. So, we were somewhat  surprised upon seeing what the singer looked like. With her over-the-top hairstyle and heavy makeup, she seemed almost like a bolder version of Madonna. And coincidentally, one part of the video featured the style of dancing known as "Vogueing”, which would go on to be popularized by Madonna’s "Vogue" song (and video) three years later. In fact, the “Tell It to My Heart” video was the first time that I ever saw anyone Vogueing.

Taylor Dayne - Tell It to My Heart
Months later, I bought Taylor’s first album (which was also titled “Tell It to My Heart”) in cassette tape format. I still have that cassette, all these years later. The song itself remains one of my all-time favorite songs. It's one of those songs that I must've listened to hundreds of times (perhaps thousands?) over the years. It's got catchy lyrics and an upbeat sound. There’s also a remixed/extended version to the song which I’ve always loved as well. I've included videos for both versions below, with the first video being the song's official video.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Uptown - "(I Know) I'm Losing You" (1987)

A few nights ago, I was listening to a radio station that plays classic rock music. And suddenly, a rock song (sung by a male singer) came on that had some vaguely familiar lyrics. As I listened to the song, the lyrics jogged a memory of the voice of a female singer from the 80s, but I couldn’t place it. I couldn't remember who that female singer was. I was like, "I’ve heard a different version of this song, but who is the singer???” I couldn’t remember for the life of me.

It turned out that the song that was being played on the radio was "(I Know) I'm Losing You" by Rod Stewart and his band Faces, and it dates from the early 1970s. I actually had never heard that particular song before. However, I decided to look up the lyrics because they sounded familiar to me. So, what I discovered was that the song had originally been recorded by The Temptations in the 1960s. It was covered by Stewart in 1971. And then, in 1987, the song was covered again by a band called Uptown. I then realized that the Uptown version was the version that I had heard back in the 80s, and thus that’s why the lyrics of the Rod Stewart song sounded familiar to me.

Surprisingly, I didn’t even remember the Uptown song, as it had been many years since I last heard it. I guess it sort of slipped out of my mind in all of the years that had gone by. So, I decided to look for it on Youtube, to listen to it again. It's always interesting to rediscover something that you haven't seen or heard in many years. And in this case, I rediscovered this song in the most unexpected way. Who knew that a rock song from the 70s would lead me to a dance music hit from the late 80s? Serendipity perhaps? :)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Lathe of Heaven: Early 80s science fiction

Lathe of Heaven
In the 1980 made-for-tv movie, The Lathe of Heaven, Bruce Davison plays a man who discovers that his dreams can change reality. The film was based on the novel of the same name, which was written by Ursula K. Le Guin. Le Guin herself served as the creative consultant to the film. The film was originally broadcast by the PBS network.

The film is set in Portland, Oregon in the not-too-distant future. It begins by following the life of a man named George Orr (played by Davison) who had recently overdosed on prescription medication that he had been taking in an attempt to suppress his ability to dream. As a result of this, George is forcibly assigned to the care of a psychiatrist named Doctor Haber. George initially tells the doctor that he’s been having dreams that can change reality since he was 17, and that when he dreams of something, the next day it becomes a reality.

Bruce DavisonLathe of Heaven

At first, the doctor is skeptical of George’s claim that his dreams can affect reality. But he subsequently decides to conduct hypnotic therapy on George with his consent, in order to better understand George’s condition. As part of the hypnosis, the doctor gives George suggestions of topics to dream about so that he can dream about that instead of the involuntary dreams that he’s been having. The doctor’s aim is for George to have pleasant dreams (at first). Nevertheless, through the hypnotic therapy, the doctor comes to realize that George does indeed have what he terms “affective dreams” and that therefore those dreams can in fact alter reality. The doctor then decides that he’s going to manipulate George’s dreams in order to "make the whole world right" with the use of a special machine known as an Augmentor.

AugmentorBruce Davison

George soon becomes aware that the doctor is using both him and his dreams to alter reality to his wishes, and he feels that the doctor is treating him like an experimental animal. He consults with a lawyer named Heather (played by Margaret Avery of The Color Purple fame) in an attempt to end his therapy sessions with the doctor. She’s initially skeptical of George’s story about his dreams, but she agrees to help him out. She gains permission to be present at one of his hypnotic therapy sessions with the doctor, at which she portrays herself as someone who was sent by the government to be an official observer of these sessions.

Margaret AveryLathe of Heaven

It is during the session witnessed by Heather that the Augmentor’s effect causes George's brain to readily accept a suggestive dream about controlling the world’s overpopulation. The result of that is that George dreams of a plague that wipes out most of humanity, and in reality the dream causes 6 billion people to disappear. Upon waking up, George confronts the doctor and tells him to take responsibility for having caused the dream to happen, but the doctor deflects the responsibility by telling George that it was his dream that caused the plague and that the dream came from his own mind. George tells the doctor that his attempts to use his dreams to make the world a better place can destroy it. But the doctor claims he can learn to harness George’s power because he believes that the purpose of man is to build a better world. George decides to distance himself from the doctor and runs away to a remote cabin on the coast. There, he reunites with Heather and tells her that he needed to get away from the doctor because he was just using him to manipulate his dreams. Heather convinces him to let her hypnotize him so that he can dream that everything is ok and so that he can wake up feeling rested and well. But that dream only serves to make things worse, leading to an alien invasion on Earth.

Lathe of HeavenLathe of Heaven

George then consents to have the doctor perform one last experiment on him, so that George can have his last affective dream. By doing so, George would have something that he's always wanted: to be cured. Under hypnosis, the doctor suggestively tells George to dream that he's lost the ability to dream affectively. What the doctor intends is for George's final affective dream to be able give the doctor himself the ability to control reality through dreams via the Augmentor machine. This comes to pass, and the doctor believes that a new era will begin, since affective dreams have eliminated the world’s social ills such as war, hatred, disease, and overpopulation. But ultimately, things don't turn out quite as the doctor had planned.

Doctor HaberDoctor Haber

I would say that despite all of the years that have gone by since this film originally aired on tv, it still holds up pretty well for a science fiction film. It’s got this fascinating indescribable quality that’s particular to some of the films from the late 70s and early 80s. The whole look and feel of the film makes for a very engrossing watch. And, it also has a synthesizer music score, which that too was typical of many films from that time period.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

An Angel at My Table: the film that teamed Jane Campion and Kerry Fox

Firstly, I would like to extend a sincere thank you to the staff of the website for having recently featured material from one of my blog entries on their website.

Secondly, as noted on this blog’s very first entry, I mentioned that the years 1980-1990 would be covered herein. Therefore, today’s entry deals with a film from the year 1990. That film is An Angel at My Table, which is the biography of New Zealand author Janet Frame, and is based on the author’s three separate autobiographies. It was originally intended to air on television as a miniseries but was instead released as a feature film.

An Angel at My Table was directed by Jane Campion, who a few years later went on to direct the Oscar-winning film The Piano. Incidentally, Campion was the second female ever to be nominated for a Best Director Oscar, for her work on that film.

This film stars Kerry Fox in the role of Janet Frame. Fox is perhaps best known for her starring role in the 1994 cult classic film Shallow Grave. In this film however, Fox delivers what I would say is probably the best onscreen portrayal ever of a morbidly shy woman.

The film is divided into three segments. The first segment covers the early years of Frame’s life. We see Frame as a young girl growing up a crowded, noisy household in a rural setting. We witness her interactions with other kids. The intense shyness that would go on to permeate her adult life wasn’t readily apparent at the time.

Janet FrameJanet Frame
Kerry FoxJanet Frame

We don’t begin to get glimpses of what her life would turn out to be like until she’s already an adolescent. The second segment of the film covers this period. Any viewer who’s ever suffered from shyness or general awkwardness can sort of relate to Frame and/or see aspects of themselves in her. I first saw this movie when I was my teens, and in some ways I kind of identified with her, since growing up I was mainly a shy kid. Also, Frame was a late bloomer, much like myself. Nevertheless, hers was a life that seemed to have a thread of constant pain and suffering woven into it. It was during this period of her adolescence that she lost one of her sisters to a drowning.

It’s not until the events in third segment of the film that Frame’s life begins to fall apart. By this part of the story, she has already reached adulthood. We see her living with an aunt and uncle while she attends college. Things seem to be going fairly well for her as she undergoes training to become a teacher. That plan ultimately gets derailed one day as her anxiety prevents her from being scrutinized by an inspector who observes her as she teaches her class.

Janet FramePsychiatric Ward

Innocently, she allows one of her instructors to read a draft of an autobiography that she’s written, and through it he learns that she had attempted suicide by swallowing a large number of Aspirin pills. He and some officials from her school convince her into spending some time at the psychiatric ward of a hospital. But, when the time comes for her to be sent home, she refuses to leave (due to her father’s violent temper), and she therefore gets sent to a mental asylum. Once she’s there, she gets diagnosed with schizophrenia, which according to a dictionary definition of the condition read by her sisters is "a gradual deterioration of the mind with no cure."

Janet FrameJanet Frame

Although she's been discharged from the asylum, the worst is still to come, as she once again loses a sister in yet another drowning accident. As Frame herself mentions in the weeks after the drowning, she comforted herself with writing. Unfortunately for her, she later gets talked into going back to a mental asylum, being told that they offer a "new treatment" there, and it's believed that her condition is curable. For the next eight years, she becomes subjected to over 200 electric shock treatments at the asylum. She’s even placed on a schedule to have a lobotomy. Thankfully though, her first book (containing short stories) gets published while she’s still at the asylum, and it’s subsequently determined that she won’t be needing the lobotomy.

Janet FrameJanet Frame
Janet FrameJanet Frame

When she finally gets discharged from the asylum for once and for all, she gets introduced to a famous writer who invites her to move in with him so that she can spend her days working on new writing material. It is during this time that her first novel gets published, and she thereby secures a literary grant to travel overseas. Her travels take her to the cities of London and Paris, and later to coastal Spain. While in Spain, she briefly falls in love with an American man during the course of the summer. She then returns to London and has difficulty finding decent work, so she voluntarily admits herself to a psychiatric hospital. After some time, a psychiatrist there determines that she never suffered from schizophrenia, and he recommends that she undergo weekly psychotherapy sessions. Thenceforth, she continues with her writing endeavors.

Janet FrameJanet Frame

This movie has a runtime of two hours and thirty minutes, but it’s well worth it. The story itself is very sad, as Frame’s life was, for the most part, a sad life. In spite of that, you do get to see moments of joy in her life, and you can't help but feel proud for her whenever she's seen having a new successful accomplishment. Kerry Fox’s performance (as Frame) was simply astonishing. A tremendous performance, and it was a breakthrough for her acting career. And in summary, this film was a marvelous achievement for its director, Jane Campion.

Monday, May 20, 2013

A Handful of Dust, featuring the always-amazing Kristin Scott Thomas

I consider the years 1984 and 1988 the two best years of the 80s for films. Those two years contained many wonderful movies and noteworthy performances. One of those performances that stands out to me is that of Kristin Scott Thomas in the 1988 film A Handful of Dust. Directed by Charles Sturridge, the film is set in England during the 1930s. Scott Thomas plays Brenda, the wife a landed aristocrat named Tony. The duo reside in a large estate in the countryside with their young son. Despite the fact that nothing appears to be lacking in Brenda's life, she seems to have grown bored with the relative isolation and the monotonous routine of living in Tony’s ancestral home, known as Hetton Abbey.

A Handful of DustHetton Abbey

After a weekend visit from a friend of Tony’s named Thomas, who’s of a lower social rank, Brenda decides to spend time in London, as she has developed a special interest in Thomas. She fancies Thomas and wishes to get to know him better. She thus begins traveling back and forth from Hetton Abbey to London on a fairly frequent basis, first under the pretext that she’s going visit her sister. Later, she decides to rent a flat in London. It just so happens that the woman she’s renting the flat from is the mother of Thomas. Brenda then very willingly enters into an affair with Thomas, seeing him whenever she’s in London, all the while maintaining the illusion that she simply wants to spend some time away from the idleness of Hetton Abbey to relish the liveliness of London.

A Handful of DustA Handful of Dust
A Handful of DustA Handful of Dust

Brenda’s trusting and unsuspecting husband has no clue of what’s really going on, though a couple of other people within their social circle are fully aware of the circumstances. She even convinces him to let her sign up for an Economics course -- more of a reason to spend time in London. It’s during one of her stays in London that an unexpected family tragedy leads her back to Hetton Abbey. Once there, she’s determined make the definitive choice to leave Tony. She returns to London to reunite with Thomas, and writes a letter to Tony to inform him that she had been having an affair with Thomas and intends to marry him. She then files for divorce from Tony and seeks a large financial settlement from him, which incidentally would require him to lose his ancestral home.

A Handful of DustA Handful of Dust
A Handful of DustA Handful of Dust

Tony refuses to grant Brenda the divorce, and instead chooses to travel abroad for a few months. He ventures to South America with an explorer friend of his, and that voyage, as it turns out, will change his destiny and that of Brenda.

A Handful of DustA Handful of Dust

The role of Brenda was the breakout performance for Scott Thomas, and it’s a pity that she wasn’t nominated for an Oscar. Though I must admit that 1988 was a very competitive year for actresses in leading roles. The film boasts a great cast which includes Judi Dench, James Wilby, Rupert Graves, Angelica Huston, and Alec Guinness who plays an elderly loner living amidst native Indians in the Amazonian jungle. Altogether, this a very good film which managed to snag an Oscar nomination for its beautiful costume design.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Resurrection: One of Ellen Burstyn’s best performances

In the 1980 film Resurrection, Academy Award-winning actress Ellen Burstyn plays a woman who undergoes a near-death experience following a car accident. She subsequently develops a supernatural power to heal the sick, apparently as an after-effect of having survived the near-death experience.

Resurrection poster
The film starts off showing Burstyn’s character Edna going about her daily life with her husband Joe in California. Edna decides to buy Joe a new car for his birthday, which she presents to him that very day after he gets out of work. The couple then decides to go for a joy ride in their new car, with Joe driving. Once on the road, Joe loses control of the car in an attempt to avoid running over a young boy who had carelessly skateboarded onto the street, and the car ends up crashing over a cliff.

Joe dies in the accident, whereas Edna sees herself being pulled into a dark tunnel with a bright light at the end, indicative of a near-death experience. In the tunnel, she happens to see people that she knew from her past who had already died, some of whom she doesn’t immediately recognize. She winds up waking up in a hospital bed, unable to move. There, she learns that Joe is dead, and her doctor informs her of the severity of her condition. She’s got damage to her lower back including a blood clot on her spinal cord, and she learns that she won’t be able to move her legs because the main nerves in both legs have been severed below the knee.

Burstyn ResurrectionResurrection near-death
Resurrection near-deathBurstyn Resurrection

Devastated upon hearing of what has happened, Edna decides to move back to her native Kansas with her father, who had come to visit her at the hospital. He drives her from California to Kansas, and on the way there, they make a stop at an isolated gas station manned by an elderly male attendant. Unbeknownst to Edna, that gas station will play an important role later in her life.

Not too long after they arrive in the rural small town where Edna grew up, she comes to the realization that she has a power to heal people of their injuries and afflictions -- something that she can accomplish by simply placing her hands on their bodies. From that point on, she becomes determined to not only help heal other people but to heal her own self of the injuries that she sustained in the car accident.

Burstyn ResurrectionShepard Resurrection
Burstyn ResurrectionBurstyn Resurrection

The townspeople grow impressed with Edna’s ability to heal, though some suspect that the healing power she possesses is in reality the work of the Devil. One of the naysayers happens to be a devoutly religious man whose son, named Cal (played by Sam Shepard), becomes Edna’s love interest. Amidst the town’s speculation over Edna’s healing power, a couple of scientific researchers from California who have witnessed some of her public healings invite her back to California to conduct tests on her power. Cal himself eventually develops a suspicion of his own with regard to Edna’s power, wondering if there is a divine source to it.

Burstyn rightfully received an Oscar nomination for her work in this film. It's a believable performance, and one I consider among her best ever. The film features striking music composed and conducted by Maurice Jarre. Overall, this is a very good film which I happen to like a lot. Though I must say, it seemed almost like this film was a satire, made with the intention of poking fun at the deep-rooted religious convictions that can typically be found in the small towns of America’s heartland.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Amityville II: The Possession -- A blatant ripoff of The Exorcist

My last blog post was about a movie franchise (the James Bond film series). So, in this entry, to continue with the theme of movie franchises, I’m going to cover a movie that was part of another franchise: Amityville II: The Possession.

Amityville II poster
The 1977 book The Amityville Horror: A True Story (written by Jay Anson) was based upon the aftermath of a 1974 multiple homicide that took place in a Colonial-style house situated within a neighborhood known as Amityville, which is located in Long Island, New York. A young man by the name of Ronald DeFeo, Jr. murdered six members of his family in that house. The following year, a man named George Lutz moved into the house with his family, but that would turn out to be a short-lived stay. After only 28 days, the Lutz family decided to move out. The reason they chose to abandon the house was that they claimed to have experienced paranormal activity during the time that they lived in the house.

The original Amityville movie (from 1979) was based on Anson’s book, and it focused on the paranormal experiences of the Lutz family. In contrast, Amityville II, despite being the second Amityville movie is actually a prequel of sorts. This movie was based on a different book titled Murder in Amityville, written by Hans Holzer in 1979. Holzer’s book delves with what caused DeFeo to murder his family -- specifically demonic possession. So, the movie showcases the murderer’s demonic possession, hence the words “The Possession” as part of the title. However, for the movie, the DeFeo surname was changed to Montelli.

Amityville houseAmityville family
Amityville possessionAmityville possession

The plot primarily revolves around the Montelli’s elder son named Sonny who becomes possessed by a demonic entity one night while his family is out and he happens to be home alone. As a result of the possession, Sonny’s personality becomes drastically altered in the weeks that follow. One of the shocking effects of the possession is that Sonny decides to engage in an incestuous relationship with one of his sisters. And after some time, the entity that has possessed his body orders him to kill his family.

Amityville priestAmityville priest

After the murders, Sonny -- seemingly unaware of what took place -- winds up in jail. A priest who had unsuccessfully tried to bless the house shortly after the Montellis moved in decides to go visit Sonny in jail and thus determines that Sonny is possessed by a demonic entity. In the denouement, an exorcism takes place, with an unforeseen outcome and a mysterious ending.

Amityville possessionAmityville possession

This movie very obviously “drew inspiration” from The Exorcist. In fact, some of the scenes in this movie seemed almost like direct copies of some of the scenes from The Exorcist -- particularly the scene in which the priest performs the exorcism on Sonny, as well as a scene in which the words “Save Me” magically appear on Sonny’s forearm. And overall, this movie as a prequel falls flat in comparison to the original Amityville movie. Though, I can admit that some of the scenes are genuinely scary and creepy. Nonetheless, this is an awful movie with no famous actors other than Burt Young who plays Sonny’s father. But, the movie deserves a mention here, as it was one of the many movies that I saw as a child in the 80s.