In the Movies: Elevator Shafts

08/14/2010

Shane Gorski under Creative Commons

Settings in movies tend to be places the average person doesn’t spend a lot of time in, be it a beach in the South of France, or in outer space, or elsewhere. The exotic nature of a particular scene stimulates the imagination, and pulls the viewer in deeper. Our interest perks up when the characters on-screen find themselves in strange locales; and one of these locales is the dreaded, beloved, and mysterious elevator shaft.

Found almost exclusively in the action/thriller genres, scenes involving elevator shafts take us into the forbidden area above and below the cars we generally ride in when traveling tall buildings. While it’s true that the concept of a mechanical lift has been around for centuries, modern elevators (and the dangers associated with them) sparked the imaginations of filmmakers since the days of black and white. And although the typical elevator shaft is not a grandiose space that would allow for such dramatics as Hollywood would like us to think, many timeless classics have portrayed them as such.  Let’s take a look at some.

Death by Shaft

In John Farrow’s classic, The Big Clock, Charles Laughton’s character Janoth plummets to his death when he steps into an open shaft; this is after killing his accuser, so it’s justified. Things don’t end up so satisfying for Emilio Estevez’s character in Mission Impossible‘s opening sequence, as the car he’s hiding atop takes him to the top of the shaft, where he meets a steely, gruesome end.


There’s even a horror movie starring Naomi Watts about a killer, evil, possessed elevator called The Shaft: YouTube Link

Surviving the Danger

20th Century Fox

Detective John McClane is pretty well-versed in dispatching the villains he encounters via elevator shaft. Whether he’s dropping C-4 down the Nakatomi Plaza’s well, or battling a henchwoman in a power station’s, he definitely “dies hard” in a hostile environment.

20th Century Fox

The opening of Speed features a breathtaking rescue effort as a group of office workers are held hostage in an elevator car, Dennis Hopper’s madman ready to blow the cables at a moment’s notice. Enter Keanu Reeves and Jeff Daniels, who go into the shaft above the imperiled car and save lives in a most excellent fashion. Director Jan de Bont was the cinematographer for Die Hard, and the influence shows in this taut sequence.

Artisan Home Entertainment

Narrow escapes are plentiful in each movie about an unstoppable cyborg trying to kill the Connors, and Terminator 2: Judgement Day includes many, including this scene where the T-1000, having just missed the elevator going down with his prey aboard, deftly opens the doors and jumps down onto the top of the car. Multiple stabbing attempts later, he oozes into the elevator after failing to kill his quarry… again.

Other examples of surviving the danger include Backdraft, and I assume Salt. In the former, a firefighter is rescued from a burning shaft, and the latter ostensibly has Angelina Jolie eluding her pursuers in some acrobatic way. What can I say, I haven’t seen it.

Use it or Lose it

Some films have a scene in an elevator shaft for utilitarian purposes. There’s not a lot of danger, and nobody dies. The characters just need to use the shaft in order to do something.

Universal

In Sneakers, River Phoenix’s Carl uses the shaft to navigate into a service duct, where he can manipulate an office’s security measures. He spends about five seconds in the shaft, but there it is.

And finally, a scene involving an elevator shaft unlike any other.

Warner Bros.

Without giving too much away, this scene from Inception is hands down the most creative use of an elevator shaft I can think of. Joseph Gordon-Leavitt’s Arthur puts the shaft, the car, and the cables into a cinematic spin that completely makes sense… once you’ve seen the movie a couple of times. :)

Okay, here’s where I turn it over to you, reader. What did I miss? Sound off in the comments.


In the Movies: Drive-In Movie Theaters

07/08/2010

Image Credit: Flickr user bound_4_freedom

I miss going to the drive-in, a movie experience unlike any other yet a quickly disappearing icon of early American car culture. The differences between going to a drive-in and a regular theater are numerous. I remember looking around at other screens when the movie I was watching grew slow, the obligatory repeat visits to the concession stand, even sneaking in via the trunk to save a few bucks.

When real estate became too valuable, these operations were forced out for development, and they just started vanishing. Even improving the audio experience -by replacing those awkward, often broken speakers with a signal beamed to the local AM/FM band- hasn’t stopped the extinction. Even the film world is somewhat devoid of scenes involving one, but there are a handful that I can think of.

Heat

Warner Bros.

The Centinela Drive-In in Los Angeles was already closed up when Michael Mann filmed this scene for Heat there. The rows of small inclines, placed there so patrons could angle their cars up for premium viewing experience, make for some exciting driving as the characters react to a violent double-cross. The land is now a middle class development. (More Heat filming locations at the link.)

Back to the Future III

In order to send Marty back this time, Doc sets up at a drive-in movie theater with a decidedly western theme. How appropriate. As the DeLorean accelerates to 88mph, it’s headed right for a wall mural featuring a tribe of Old West Indians riding fiercely on horseback. After he jumps, Marty is instantly surrounded by the same thing, only it’s real this time. How clever!

Blue Thunder

In this Roy Scheider/Malcolm McDowell helicopter thriller, there’s one scene where Scheider’s girlfriend has to retrieve evidence left in a dumpster at an L.A. drive-in (probably not the same one as Heat).

The Outsiders

Zoetrope Films

Drive-in theaters weren’t strictly a park-and-view experience. Many, especially in the 1960s, included playgrounds, patio dining, and a bandstand type seating area for pedestrian moviegoers – or greasers who sneak in under the fence, like in Francis Ford Coppola’s classic.

Twister

In 1985, the Spotlight 88 drive-in theater in Pennsylvania was destroyed when an F3 tornado ripped through it. Afterwards, before it closed and became a flea market, the management changed the marquis sign to say “Now Playing: Gone with the Wind.” In Jan de Bont’s 1996 action movie, a twister of similar magnitude surprises a late night screening by chewing right through a screen showing The Shining. As a somewhat ham-handed tribute, de Bont has the screen and funnel meld together just as Jack Nicholson delivers his “Here’s Johnny!” line.

Grease

In the Broadway production of Grease, the scene is the same, but the song Danny Zuko sings is actually called “Alone at the Drive In.” It’s a more bebop-ey, era-accurate song than “Sandy” could ever hope to be, but updating is nothing new. Also, nice inclusion of the animated snack bar ads. Everyone loves it when the hot dog jumps into the bun.

Targets

 

via The Internet Movie Car Database

This gruesome gem was director Peter Bogdanovich’s first movie, edited by Jaws‘ Verna Fields, and starred Boris Karloff in a kind of self-reflective role. He plays a former monster movie actor whose style is outdated; the people need scarier monsters now. So another character decides to go on a shooting spree, at one point shooting people from behind the drive-in movie screen they’re all staring at. Whoa, deep.

Jesus’ Son

Another fairly unknown movie that gets a lot of repeat viewings at this household. Billy Crudup, Samantha Morton, Jack Black, Denis Leary, Holly Hunter, Dennis Hopper. How’s that for a “Who’s in it?” Anyway, great cast and a life-affirming journey. In one crazy scene, after Crudup and Black have ingested some sort of hallucinogen, they come across an old drive-in, weeds growing tall and just the posts left where the speakers used to hang. Crudup’s character thinks he’s walking through a graveyard, then beholds his love up on the giant screen. And someone’s feet is playing an organ. It’s weird. Cool, but really strange.

Herbie Fully Loaded

Yeah, well that’s what I’ve heard.

Christine

Columbia Pictures

It was wise of John Carpenter to alter the scene in the book where Leigh almost chokes to death on a hamburger, and place it at a drive-in instead of outside of a fast food place. It just feels more natural to have a car like that 1958 Plymouth Fury at a drive-in theater. Right? And instead of a hitchhiker, we just get someone who was in the next car over to save her, at Arnie’s expense.

As with many of the aggregate posts I write, I’m sure I missed some. Any ideas?

Wiki

Don’t miss my other In the Movies topics, Elevator Shafts, and Dams.


Ten Places You’ll Never Go

01/08/2010

Listverse details ten sites around the globe that are strictly forbidden to the general public.  No matter how much you’d like to see The Vatican Secret Archive, Club 33, Area 51 or the inside of Ise Grand Shrine (left), unless you’re one of the elite few, forget about it.  The shrine does sound wonderful, though…

The Ise Grand Shrine in Japan (which is actually a series of over 100 shrines) is the most sacred shrine in Japan. It is dedicated to Amaterasu (the Sun goddess) and has been in existence since 4BC. The main shrine is alleged to hold the most important item in Japan’s imperial history: the Naikū (the mirror from Japanese mythology which eventually ended up in the hands of the first emperors). The shrine is demolished and rebuilt every 20 years in keeping with the Shinto idea of death and rebirth (the next rebuilding will be in 2013). This ranks very high on the list of places you will never go because the only person who can enter is the priest or priestess and he must be a member of the Japanese imperial family. So unless we have a Japanese prince or princess reading the site, no one here will ever see anything more than the thatched roof of the Ise Grand Shrine.

Link


Shootouts!

12/09/2009

AskMen has put together what could arguably be called the most spot on top ten list regarding shootouts in movies.  They’re all here, the cremé de le cremé.

10. Unforgiven. I remember being so skeptical of this movie when it came out, and was so blown away by what Mr. Eastwood did with direction.  Great shootout with a villain you love to hate and his goons.

9. Boondock Saints. Even though Overnight depicts director Troy Duffy as an egomaniac, I remember also being blown away (okay, no more of that) by the two centerpieces of this thriller, and the shootout was elevated to cult status once again.

8. Tombstone. The epitome storyline.  The reason we have shootouts is because of the story of the OK Corral.  This is the best version of that story.

7. The Untouchables. The first one that came to mind when I read the title.  Odessa Steps, baby carriage, classic.

insert shootout here.

6. Hard Boiled. Hat tip to John Woo in general, methinks.

5. The Matrix.
Second one that came to mind, but I would extend AskMen’s title of The Lobby to The Rescue of Morpheus, because you have to include the chopper scene.

4. The Professional. You think Leon’s going to fall for that knock?  You better bring more guys, Oldman.

3. The Wild Bunch. I’m so happy my favorite western made it so high on the list.  From the article:

Believe it or not, more blank rounds were discharged during the production of The Wild Bunch than live rounds were fired during the Mexican Revolution of 1914. Now that’s dedication!

2. Scarface. Natch.

1. Heat. Hell Yes.  Michael Mann’s epic shootout not only makes kinetic shootout cinema… the scene mirrored a real life Los Angeles bank robbery that used similar guns & tactics, only that time the criminals were killed.  This scene however always manages to blow me away (Sorry).

By the way, each entry at the site hosts YouTubage of the scenes, a rundown of Notable Guns, and Estimated Body Count.  Awesome.

Go to AskMen.

What they left out: Open Range, The Usual Suspects, Saving Private Ryan, Shoot ‘em Up, Terminator 2,  ……more?


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