Why Runaway Train (1985) is probably my favourite movie ever

Until last night it must have been over ten years since I’d watched _Runaway Train_ and I wasn’t even remembering it right because I thought it was Charles Bronson in it but it’s Jon Voight. And I didn’t remember all the prison scenes at the start either. But what did stay in my mind all that time was the shots of the train blasting through the snow.

Here’s what really works in this film:

1. shots of the train blasting through the snow

<a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/sunnybreaks/18512845384″ title=”run-awaytrain-2 by Hi!  my name is:, on Flickr”><img src=”https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/352/18512845384_9fbb52e5af.jpg” width=”500″ height=”273″ alt=”run-awaytrain-2″></a>

The four locos teamed together, muddy-black in colour. The long shots show the desolate Alaskan winter and the driving snow emphasises the speed of the train. This is what cinematography is all about to me; showing something in pictures that can’t be described in dialogue or words of any kind.

2. The basic elements of the plot

Apparently this was a story and screenplay originally written by Akira Kurasawa. It was later adapted by the people who put together this film but there’s something about the way the main elements of the story hang together that have Kurasawa’s name all over them. I actually don’t know that much about him — I’ve only seen a couple of his B&W 50s(?) samurai films but there’s a simple way of story-telling though visuals he got down that others have been influenced by for decades.

The reason I can tell it’s not pure Kurasawa is the way it jumps from the scenes in the train what Voight kills, and the scenes in the train line control room. It’s like going from a quality drama to _<a href=”https://en.wikipedia.org/?title=Airplane!”>Flying High!</a>_ Who ever was casting or directing, in these bits at least, really dropped the ball.

<a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/sunnybreaks/18947677130″ title=”control-room by Hi!  my name is:, on Flickr”><img src=”https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/299/18947677130_761363918d.jpg” width=”500″ height=”273″ alt=”control-room”></a>

3. Jon Voight.

<a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/sunnybreaks/19129647552″ title=”jon-voight-as-manny by Hi!  my name is:, on Flickr”><img src=”https://c4.staticflickr.com/4/3954/19129647552_c2c8b56d94.jpg” width=”500″ height=”276″ alt=”jon-voight-as-manny”></a>

He probably did the only good acting in the film. Even then I wonder if the way he did the character might have been influenced by the way Stallone played the character Rocky Balboa. There was a couple of short monologish scenes that he nailed to the point where if this was a more popular movie then people would be parroting them the way they do De Niro in _Taxi Driver_.

<a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/sunnybreaks/19138799831″ title=”clean-that-spot by Hi!  my name is:, on Flickr”><img src=”https://c4.staticflickr.com/4/3881/19138799831_2f1582029a.jpg” width=”500″ height=”273″ alt=”clean-that-spot”></a>

Honourable mentions for cool things are – The actor and character that played the head prison warden. Every crazy, deathwish-seeking escaped convict needs an equally crazy sheriff hell-bent on bringing him down.

In both of these characters I can see an archetypal simplicity that Kurasawa would’ve outlined that made them so easy or successful to play.

And the on-train stunts and cinematography of the stunts. Hyper-real in how they look and the angles at which they were captured at. No CGI. The way heavy-falling snow combined with the speed of the train creates a darkening of the shot. Plus everyone knows how slippery ice is and _everyone can guess_ how slippery it would be when trying to climb onto the nose of an <a href=”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EMD_F7″>EMD F7</a> at 70 miles an hour.

<a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/sunnybreaks/18947763138″ title=”EMD-F7 by Hi!  my name is:, on Flickr”><img src=”https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/409/18947763138_d7d8ea7e46.jpg” width=”500″ height=”275″ alt=”EMD-F7″></a>

Because of the ’80s schlock of the control room I’d almost say that this was a film ripe for re-doing but I know they’d never get the good parts right. No one in the two thousand teens wants to see a train barrelling through the snow, right? We’ve got too much ADD for that. No one wants to see relationships and motivations unfolding inside a boring, boxy black locomotive’s interior. So I can live with the bits that are a bit quaint because I know that Hollywood today would red rubber-stamp the whole thing ‘QUAINT’ including the live action stunts and the symbolism of an out of control train carrying a rebel on his last flight.


Here’s a couple of things I came across recently.

  • <a href=”http://nofilmschool.com/2014/08/francois-truffaut-interview-alfred-hitchcock/?utm_campaign=twitter”>12 hours of Hitchcock interviews</a>. I listened to the whole thing. All considered, he was a pretty modern dude. Born in 1899, and 63yo when he did this interview – which was over 50 years ago, he still sounds very modern considering. He talks about the actors like they were chess pieces, but I imagine most directors are like that. Another good thing about it is he names names. If someone was disappointing Hitchcock says so. I guess because of litigation you don’t here that kind of thing much these days.
  •  <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/sunnybreaks/14902794690″ title=”cat-sight by Hi!  my name is:, on Flickr”><img id=”floatMe” src=”https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3925/14902794690_2edb09e63d_o.png” width=”163″ height=”333″ alt=”cat-sight”></a> This is a small sample from <a href=”http://www.businessinsider.com.au/pictures-of-how-cats-see-the-world-2013-10″>here</a>. It is supposedly showing what cat vision is like. The top image is human sight – it is blurry because it in the periphery. So, cats have a slightly wider arc of sight but colours are a bit weird, everything’s a bit fuzzy and they can’t see as far as us. I was kind of surprised. Yes they can see better in the dark but I thought they had super-duper vision in all areas. I’d feel kind of ripped off if that’s all I could see.
  • In the car I’ve been listening to a radio station called ‘Hot Country’. It’s contemporary, commercially-oriented country music. It’s a whole ‘nother world.

Shock Corridor (1963)

Third up in the list of Film Noir is _Shock Corridor_. Total spoilage: it’s not a happy ending with this one but otherwise is just as strong a story as _Blast Of Silence_. And what do you know, Larry Tucker aka Big Ralphy is in this one too. He must’ve done the rounds of early 60s noir and then hung up his acting hat.

<a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/sunnybreaks/9366811087/” title=”larrytucker by esquimauxpie, on Flickr”><img src=”http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3831/9366811087_1f278263fa_n.jpg” width=”320″ height=”196″ alt=”larrytucker”></a>

So anyway this film was showing us the whacky and grizzly insides of an insane asylum a good deal before Jack crazied it up on _One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest_. You could probably do a great Intro to Film Studies essay about this movie because there’s three characters that represent different parts of the shadow that the US cast over itself and other parts of the world, including the very fresh over-hang of racial segregation.

<a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/sunnybreaks/9366810847/” title=”shockcorridor by esquimauxpie, on Flickr”><img src=”http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2822/9366810847_deaceb9bd1_n.jpg” width=”320″ height=”172″ alt=”shockcorridor”></a><br/><em>Trent cracked up after being hounded out of the university he was </em>in theory<em> entitled to attend.</em>

The main character gets shock treatments but they don’t scramble his brains immediately and there’s one scene where for a moment he loses the ability to talk. It uses voice over to tell us what he’s thinking and he’s wanting to open his mouth and wondering why it won’t work. That was a great little bit of visual story-telling.

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I also watched a couple of ’70s science fiction movies: _Logan’s Run_ (1976) : kind of weird but had some great ’70s breasts in it (they just seemed kind of different back then) and _Silent Running_ (1972) which I remeber seeing when I was real little, as in back in the BTV6 cargo cult days. Maybe I was 7 or something. This was the first time I’ve watched a movie and felt ‘this seemed much bigger when I was little’ in the way that a town where you grew up might. My memory of the ship Bruce Dern was floating around on was that it was much bigger and I can remember being quite tramatised when one of the little walking-boxes (robots) got his foot stuck in the railing and got blown away in a space storm. I guess that sense of ‘hey this could be much bigger’ is a good thing because maybe this is one film-story that could be re-done successfully but I guess it’d have to be done outside hollywood, _a la_ <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon_%28film%29″>Moon</a>.

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One photography app I’ve been mucking around with recently is <a href=”https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/vsco-cam/id588013838?mt=8″>VSCO cam</a>, which free but that’s just to lure you in to get you to spend some money. I didn’t mind so much since these little, invisible things are all I’m spending money on now (other than food). One thing I do really like is the <a href=”http://vsco.co/grid”>VSCO Grid</a> idea. This is exactly what Hispstamatic should’ve done instead of piss-farting around with Oggl; an instagram clone. A nice minimal, arty-lookin’, centralised webfront for people to show off their hipstamatic shots. Again, free at first and then charge for enhanced services/features later. Like leading lemmings off a cliff. <a href=”http://sunnybreaks.vsco.co/”>Here’s my grid.</a>

2 film noirs

I’ve been watching selections of film noir as recommended by the wikipedia page on such things. First up was _Blast Of Silence_ (1961) which had a kind of ameteurish feel to it but liked it. And it’s also notable that about half of the story is told by a narrator in 2nd person.

<a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/sunnybreaks/9211710071/” title=”blastofsilence by esquimauxpie, on Flickr”><img src=”http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2831/9211710071_a842488b30_m.jpg” width=”240″ height=”179″ alt=”blastofsilence”></a><br/>_A visit to Big Ralph’s to order a gun in_ Blast Of Silence.

The second film was _The Manchurian Candidate_ (1962) which was based on a book — aren’t all the best films adapted from books? Frank Sinatra, and evil Angela Lansbury, a killer plot and some really clever scenes (see below) – what’s not to like?

<a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/sunnybreaks/9211710085/” title=”manchuriancandidate by esquimauxpie, on Flickr”><img src=”http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3737/9211710085_4df28101e0_n.jpg” width=”320″ height=”186″ alt=”manchuriancandidate”></a><br/>_Genteel horticulture enthusiast or dastardly Stalinist brainwasher?_

Heat (1995)

<a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/sunnybreaks/8744037878/” title=”deniro-in-heat by esquimauxpie, on Flickr”><img src=”http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7289/8744037878_5d78de7f34.jpg” width=”500″ height=”207″ alt=”deniro-in-heat”></a>

I don’t know how but I missed this movie up til now. Maybe it didn’t too well at the box-office, but has a pretty good storyline and a big cast. I have said it before, I really don’t know what good acting is. Maybe it’s this -> ^ when Robert De Niro does his brief side-glance thing. (This can also be seen _Goodfellas_). Anyway, very different from the Miami Vice TV series that Michael Mann is best known for, featuring De Niro as the criminal, Al Pacino as the cop and a whole bunch of other people including Val Kilmer and Henry Rollins.

The only reason I came across this film is that one of the heists set ups gets borrowed and drafted into the upcoming Grand Theft Auto 5 which’ll be released this year.

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I’ve really been meaning to try and get around to putting a bit of individuality into this wordpress template layout but the more push-button they make them, the harder they are to modify and my html skills aren’t what they used to be.

Also, probably like most weblogs, I get the odd hand-delivered attempt at slipping some SPAM through the net (how miserable must these people’s lives be, finding weblogs to cut n’ paste spam into each day?) and most of them are lame-o nonsense but I have to note the below example as one that made me pause for a second, thinking it might’ve been a real commenter.

‘Hello there’ writes:

Hi! I understand this is kind of off-topic but I had to ask.

Does managing a well-established website like yours take
a large amount of work? I’m completely new to running a blog but I do write in my diary on a daily basis. I’d like to start a blog so I can
share my experience and feelings online. Please let me
know if you have any ideas or tips for brand new aspiring bloggers.

Nice social-engineering you got going there. Close but no raisin toast.

Manhunter (1986)

I watched this movie last night and quite liked it. It was based on a novel called The Red Dragon (I think) but adapted (written & directed) by Michael Mann, the guy who did Miami Vice, so his style is all over it but the subject matter is a bit darker in that it’s dealing with psycho-killers. This was going on about Hannibal Lektor when Jodie Foster was still in Highschool. But some other dude is the main villain in it, and here’s a picture of him:

<a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/sunnybreaks/8397419716/” title=”manhunter-1986 by esquimauxpie, on Flickr”><img src=”http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8498/8397419716_1ae5080221.jpg” width=”500″ height=”226″ alt=”manhunter-1986″></a>

But he’s not a one-dimensional psycho and there’s a moment where it seems like he’s found mercy but his craziness gets in the way. I don’t know why films that have a stylised element like this get shit-canned so often, it’s not as if you ever go see a Hollywood movie for a dose of reality. I love this kind of depiction of the 80s and the soundtrack’s pretty good too.


I watched the first couple of episodes of The X Files the other night. That was 1993. *That was 20 years ago.*

rambles from a big chair

I almost never go to the cinema because I don’t like to deal with peasants and their mobile phones spoiling my immersive experience. I guess it’s the darkness of the room, the loud surround sound and the fact that I can’t pause it every half hour to go to the toilet. It’s more like taking a bus in that I have to plan to go to the toilet before hand and hope that I don’t feel the need during the film because it’s annoying knowing that it’s continuing back in there and I’m missing it while I’m doing my thing.

And then when it finishes I’m ejected from a womb-like setting into the horrible bright world — where I bump off walls, am grumpy and cannot communicate for at least 20 minutes.

But J-e found a cinema where there’s only thirty (ultra comfy) seats. It was a bit spendy, and the other people in the cinema were still distracting but we went. And saw Skyfall, the 23rd James Bond movie. Click more for review including spoilage. Continue reading “rambles from a big chair”

Two genres: two movies (pt 1)

I don’t know that genre is the right word here but it’ll have to do. One is Rasta the other is early hip-hop.

I think I was having a quick read of the wikipedia page on Rastafarianism and came across a short list of films to do with it. One is _Rockers_ (1978). Apparently it started off only intending to be a doco on Rasta life but turned into a full-length film with something of a story to it. This is the thing that the two movies mentioned here have in common – they do really well at showing a slice of the niche they’re about but the plotline is barely there. I don’t mind that. I got to thinking we put too much emphasis on whether a plot makes sense when it comes to film.

There was quite a bit of the ganja smoking in it. There was also several well know Jamaican musicians from the time. I found the fashion kind of interesting. Eventhough the main Rasta colours are red, green and gold, occasionally the colours of the Angolan flag, red green and black pop up. Somewhere this is mentioned on the wikipedia page but I forget what it’s about.

And even more interesting was the creole of English that they use there in Jamaica. There were subtitles, and they were speaking English of a kind but I’d be buggered if I could understand it without the subs. There were certain words that got used a lot, like ‘forward’ and ‘rascal’ and it makes me wonder why those particualr words…   Also, words used to insult people, like “bumba clot” (something I heard a lot in grand theft auto 4) was actually bum cloth, which I guess is another way of saying ‘asswipe’.


The hip-hop film is _Wildstyle_ (1983). I came across this because it was mentioned on this really awesome page that had a whole bunch of pictures of ghetto blasters. I don’t know where that page is now. Wildstyle shows a bit of the graffiti culture and the rapping culture that are central to hip-hop. At times the film is almost like a musical. Again, there’s a bunch of rappers who were famous at the time cameoing, like Grand Master Flash.

three movies

Car Wash (1976)

There’s a rusty old petrol station over the street down below me and attached to it is a hand-job car wash. When I’m feeling a bit down or flat I look out there and think Well at least I’m not working at the Car Wash. Although I’m sure that it’s possible to work there and be happy with a beat kind of simple lifestyle too. It made me think of the disco song, Car Wash by Rose Royce. I do have it amongst my voluminous music files but not the version that was in my mind’s ear. There was another version on yootoob and thereupon I discovered that it was also connected to a 1970s LA movie.

I watched the movie. Nothing earth-shattering – just depicting life in the 70s being a black person working at the car wash. There was no real main character, it had about 15 characters it’d switch between. It made it a little difficult to connect with. Richard Pryor does a cameo as do the Pointer Sisters.

Point Blank (1967)

An action film starring Lee Marvin. Good quality action films, when you can find them or be recommended them, are really worht the time. The action genre got dragged down badly in the late 80s but when it’s good it can be one of the purest forms of film in that it emphasises action over dialogue. (sideways: interdesting article on action films <a href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/01/magazine/how-the-american-action-movie-went-kablooey.html?_r=1″>here</a>)

There was some unusual editing and cinematography in it and it alludes to The Man but calls it The Organisation. I might have to check out what else Lee Marvin did after seeing this and _Violent Saturday_.

The Seven Year Itch (1955)

is one that J-e wanted to watch, I think because she’d read this was the movie that has Marilyn Monroe in the famous scene where she’s standing on top of a subway air vent. I didn’t think it’d be my cup of tea but I was surprised with how modern the writing was considering the year it was from. It’s called farce style, with the main guy alongside Marilyn imagining all kinds of absurd daydreamings. Very Ally McBeal. And Monroe is one person whose image really does live up to the hype.