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Monday, August 11, 2014

Enter The Void: 2010

Release date: September 24, 2010 (USA)
Director: Gaspar Noé
Cinematography: Benoît Debie

I admire point of view films because they are so easy to mess up. Most of the complaints that I have with films like this have mostly to do with the camera and at times I'll be saying to myself, "There is no way they could have gotten that shot!" However, you have found something incredibly special when you come across a P.O.V film that is creative with its cinematography, subject matter, and narrative. Director Gaspar Noé has managed to edit together a film, the likes of which I have never experienced. And I will never want to experience it ever again. 

Enter The Void is about Oscar, an in-denial drug dealer who is killed and witnesses the effect his death has on his friends and sister from his wandering/omniscient soul. I have to say that the strong impression this film gave me came entirely from the story and execution. Both are incredible and incredibly new at that. Enter The Void is told and filmed in the first person, but it would be an injustice to leave it at just that.  It doesn't just feel like you're looking at what the main character is looking at, it feels like you're inside Oscar's head and the reason why the film is able to distinguish between being someone and being...inside...someone is because of the sound design of muffling whatever Oscar says, and it's really great to see that people would actually think about that.

The movie centers around two unpleasant subjects: drugs and death.Both are presented and shown in interesting ways. In fact I don't think that Iv'e seen anything like this movie so far. The idea of death is discussed a little between the characters but the real substance comes from the depictions and representations of what actually happens when you die.  The way the film handles drugs is just as interesting, and again, although the subject of drugs is deeply, deeply seeded into the plot, more is explained through the visual representation of each high. In a way both of these interpretations mirror each other in presentation. I'm not quite sure what that means, but it's something to think about. 


It's difficult to tell if the negatives outweigh the positives because I actually really like Enter The Void. But the main problem stems from the inability to actually watch the film. This becomes apparent by the opening credits, which if you're at all intrigued by the film and are interested in watching it, I won't spoil what happens. But I will say that there should be a seizure warning somewhere before the movie starts. To my dismay there wasn't, and I was unfortunate enough to simply stumble upon this film without really knowing what it was about so when the opening credits assaulted was surprising to say the least.    

Despite this I still recommend the movie because I think that it would be very easy for someone to hate and I would like to get an idea of the ratio between people who do like the film and people who don't. As for myself in formulating an actual opinion I would like to say that I didn't enjoy watching the movie, but I like it overall as a film. There are several very interesting concepts that are presented originally and executed in enough of a coherent way. I'm torn between the visuals because it's probably one of the biggest reasons why I both like the film and loathe it. When rating Enter The Void I'm going to take into account not only the aspects that make the film un-watchable but the effort the filmmakers made to create the movie. Go watch it. Don't die. You've been warned. 


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Blue Ruin: 2014

   I had only heard one thing about Blue Ruin before watching it. That it would only appeal to independent film junkies. Hearing that news sort of rubbed me the wrong way. Yes, Blue Ruin is an independent film, but I can't stand this whole idea of filing everything that isn't a Hollywood blockbuster into the "artsy, film festival, misunderstood bin of one-hit-wonders". "Ohh, It's an independent film, so it's privileged." Like, that name is some kind of handicap that can excuse it from being compared to other films. I mean, I get that a movie from Christopher Nolan shouldn't be compared to a movie like Be Kind, Rewind, but that isn't the point that I'm trying to make. It shouldn't matter about whether or not it's an independent film. As long as you have a camera, you are at equal playing fields when trying to convey an emotion, or prove a point, or tell a story. Oh yeah, and I'm reviewing Jeremy Saulnier's  Blue Ruin. It caught audiences by surprise by attempting to deliver a ultra realistic thriller blah blah blah let's do this.

   I think that I should address before I begin that I did some research on Jeremy Saulnier and found that he hasn't necessarily made quite a big footprint in the film industry. His last and only other film dating back to 2007 entitled Murder Party was, surprisingly, not very popular among audiences. His new film that I will talk about today will try to tell a revenge story, and hopefully succeed in the process.

   Blue Ruin is about Dwight, a homeless man who returns to his family to settle an old score with the Cleland family, their long time adversary. Throughout the film it doesn't become incredibly clear as to why the two families are at war with each other. Very little is explained, and whether or not what is said is even the truth stays vague, even during the climax.  And in my opinion that takes a toll on the overall film. There aren't a lot of opportunities for character development, and Dwight hardly has any lines at all. However, I don't know whether this is a good thing or a bad thing because on one hand less lines means less exposition, and on the other hand there's an added sense of intrigue and mystery to the origin of our characters. 

   I don't know which one I prefer, and I've found myself thinking about the similarly about films like Drive and Only God Forgives, where not much attention is put onto the main characters. But it's very frustrating in Blue Ruin specifically because the film isn't really stylized around the visuals (unlike in said films where visuals are much more important). It more has to do with the obsticals that add new story, and challenge to the film. But I think that the way Dwight deals with the problems he is faced with gives an interesting alternative to developing a character. This is a great strength that the film holds, and it's very refreshing to watch a film that is so pro "show, don't tell". A lot of the quite moments in Blue Ruin end up forming a very realistic atmosphere. 

   Blue Ruin is incredibly realistic. It conveys the idea of "real life danger"  really well. When I say "real life danger" (for lack of a better phrase) I'm talking about the difference between Die Hard and Die Hard 4. Blue Ruin stays grounded to reality, and the best parts are during the thinking and executions of how the main character is going to overcome a certain obstacle. A certain, realistic obstacle. The plot represents a sort of domino affect that puts each consecutive event into motion. The fun of the film is watching how Dwight will get out of the next issue! And, thankfully, every action scene falls within the boundaries of realism, preventing the film from making Dwight invisible. The realism in the film keeps the tension high and makes up for a lack of character development or any substantial exposition. Even though I don't know all too much about Dwight's predicament or past life, the violence is shot in such a way that I ended up caring about him regardless. 

   I have to admit that after viewing Blue Ruin, I decided that I didn't like it very much. And I'm going to sound like such a snooty, pretentious critic, but I felt like I was on the outside looking in on the film, as opposed to there, in the moment, and invested. This really only had to do with the characters, and the plot. A lot was shrouded in mystery, and I felt like being at school, and coming into a conversation too late, not knowing what anyone is talking about. The film lets you in on a few things, but the rest is unseen and unheard. It was kind of frustrating, because at a certain point I became interested in the story, but due to the way exposition was handled, I never became fully interested. The violence was very unforgiving, but sparing and realistic. Blue Ruin fell a little short, but at least it fared better than Murder Party. At the end of the day, at least I can say that. 


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Godzilla: 2014

   When I say monster, what sort of thing comes to mind?  Maybe you think of the Universal monsters like The Wolf Man, or The Creature From The Black Lagoon. Or maybe you think of the creations of special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen. But if you're like me, then the first thing you think of when you hear "monster" is Godzilla. A name that implies ultimate power and destruction...and dinosaurs. Godzilla began his reign of destruction in 1954 with the release of his first feature film entitled, "Gojira". The monster was supposed to symbolize the power of nuclear weapons, and the destruction the monster caused mirrored (more or less) the devastation of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is  who Godzilla originally was, but as he began to appear in more films the giant thunder lizard would become both friend and foe to the human race through one way or another.  And once again an American director has decided to wipe the slate clean and retell the first appearance of a scary, green, scaly, atomic breathing, giant monster. Let's take a look at Gareth Edwards' Godzilla!

   Now before I begin I would like to clarify something. I am a huge Godzilla fan. I love the monsters and robots that he fights. I love Monster Island. I love everything from Mecha-Godzilla to Jet Jaguar and I was really excited when I heard tell of a new Godzilla movie! Like, oh my god. For once in my adult life I would have a modern release to call my own! I was hyped, and I hoped that this revamp of a franchise would succeed in reminding audiences who the king of monsters was. However, I understand that writing a review of a film with this big a fan base is a heavy burden to carry, and in doing so I need to remind those who have an opinion to also respect mine for what it is. To you I might be wrong. To you I might not have fully understood the kind of Godzilla movie that was meant to be made. Maybe, to you, Gareth Edwards exceeded your vision of Godzilla to the nth degree. I'm trying to break to you that I didn't like this movie. Let me tell you why. Who knows, you might be really disappointed. 

   The plot follows Joe Brody (Cranston), his son Ford (Taylor-Johnson) and their efforts to uncover a conspiracy hidden by the government. As you may have guessed that conspiracy is Godzilla, and it later escalates as more monsters reach more populated areas. And the first thing that I want to talk about is Godzilla which was, after all, the main selling point for the film. There is a ton to consider when you take the helm for a job like this, and I think that Edwards did the most that he could do. And it looks beautiful. The pacing, every movement, his face, the moves! It's all there! And it looks so cool!!!!! As far as I'm concerned Godzilla looks perfectly fine. I heard that some people thought that Godzilla's legs and feet looked fat, and I can see where they're coming from, but it never really bothered me because he's a giant monster and I was prepared for him to be lumbering around a metropolitan area. In other words, his size matched his speed. 
For a movie called, "Godzilla" there really isn't all that much Godzilla in the film. The full screen time that Godzilla has might clock out to a half an hour at the most, and only half the time he's fighting other monsters. When I watch a Godzilla movie I expect it to revolve around him for the most part, but instead Edwards decided it would be better to star two actors to carry our story from beginning to end.

   I want to explain why a main character is important in a story for a frame of reference to this movie. The main character is who the audience vicariously lives through. It is important to have a character in a story that doesn't understand the driving action at hand so that when he is learning about the situation, so are we as an audience. The way that Jo works with Ford is similar to a movie like Back to The Future however only in the sense that there is an experienced man trying to explain a discovery to an inexperienced apprentice. But in a movie like Back to the Future we care a lot more about Marty than Doc Brown because we like his character, we want to see him overcome obsticals, and we know he's not perfect (when he loses his temper after being called "chicken"). Marty McFly is a well rounded character. Ford is not. I have no disrespect towards Aron Taylor Jonson's performance, but his character has nothing interesting set up during the entirety of his screen time. I don't care about him as a character at all. I don't care about his wife, or his job, or his well furnished house. The only reason I think he needed to be in the movie was to give us perspective of a human in comparison to Godzilla...which was incredible. 

   Bryan Cranston's performance was incredible as well and while I don't believe that he was picked simply to grab more of an audience, I don't think it hurt the film during box office weekend. His performance was so good, I can honestly say that I cared infinitely more about Jo and his wife with the ten minuets they were interacting together, than the entire rest of the film that had Ford and his wife interacting together. The very moment that Bryan Cranston died I had no one to follow in the movie that I remotely cared about. It relieved all the tension because I didn't care about Ford or his wife. He was the only interesting character and when he left I had nothing to invest in for the rest of the film. 

   Many people had gone into this movie with different expectations because while there is generally a formula to a Godzilla movie, there are also different aspects of the franchise that fans like to focus on. My ideal Godzilla movie would be a bunch of never-before seen actors playing scientists with no names that try to kill Godzilla with a science thing...but that will never happen. I didn't expect it to happen, but I hoped it would. This is not that movie.

   There were a few minor problems I had with Godzilla, like how everything seemed a little too convenient for our main characters when they were everywhere Godzilla was, and when Ford makes it his mission to save one child out of the fifty people that are on a train literally speeding towards one of the monsters. But I can look past those flaws. All in all Godzilla takes itself a little too seriously for me. There are several dry spells in the film where nothing happens, the actual story that doesn't involve Bryan Cranston is terrible, and I didn't care about the main character. But if you're willing to put up with that to get to the best ten minuet monster fight you've ever seen, I recommend it.


Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Great Gatsby: 2013

   I love F Scott Fitzgerald. I love his diction and eloquent ability to string together a time and place. The Great Gatsby, arguably his most famous novel is certainly a true testament to the literary footprint he imposes on American Literature to this day. It’s a good book, so naturally a considerable amount of time and effort would need to go into the film adaptation. …And so, in 2013 Baz Lurmahnn would take the place of so many directors before him and attempt to tell the story of a man named Jay Gatsby.

   I do not like Baz Lurmahnn or his movies. In my opinion they are far too loud, fast, and obnoxious for me to get any enjoyment out of watching. And, sadly, I can’t say anything too differently in terms of The Great Gatsby, his latest film. The frustrating part about it being this adaptation specifically is that both Lurmahnn and Fitzgerald have definitive styles to their writing, and when they are chosen to “work together” so to speak, the final product is…not entirely thought through. Sometimes it felt like certain scenes were directed by different people. Every so often an entire scene from the film would be pulled from the book verbatim, and that can be confusing when the very next scene is written like a Baz Lurmahnn film.

   Lurmahnn’s adaptation also suffers from the constant explanation of symbols in the story. Fitzgerald doesn’t need to completely explain his writing because he gives just enough insight into the possible explanation of symbols. At one point in the book a man is explaining to Nick Caraway, the main character, that all the books in Gatsby’s house were real books. Fitzgerald doesn’t fully explain it, but leaves the symbol of the scene open for understanding. However, Lurmahnn does not take as much time to stew in the proverbial pot of character or plot development. Ironically so, being that the film clocks in at two and a half hours.

   The Great Gatsby, when being compared to Fitzgerald’s work, falls short of engaging. The writing is all over the place, the style gives no time to admire the fleshed out and rather accurate backdrops of the locations, and when the end credits have finally appeared on the centerfold you are left wondering if Lurmahnn thinks you are too smart or too stupid to understand the film. And at the bottom line, that is the main problem. Even though the audience is waited on hand and foot by Lurmahnn, he is unable to present the main theme of Fitzgerald’s writing; that a man can reinvent himself. 


Friday, May 9, 2014

Enemy: 2013

I'm not sure what to think of Enemy, and while that's not the best line to begin a review with, I'll try my best to talk about it and form some kind of an opinion before this is over. Enemy is about Adam, an introverted college professor who spots his doppelganger acting in a film, and decides to track him down. That's as much of the movie I can spoil because I'm not really sure what happens after that. I mean, there's a loose plot revolving around Adams doppelganger, Anthony, pursuing Adam's girlfriend but besides that the film is pretty devoid of anything else. Well, mostly.

The overall film produces a very melancholy tone, mostly due to the muted color scheme and soundtrack. The soundtrack in particular stood out from the rest of the film, and while I'm not really in a place to judge music, I thought it fit very well with the escalation of tension throughout the film. The cinematography provides the audience with incredibly unsettling moments coupled with the violent sliding of the violin every now and then. There are some shots I can note that take advantage of the strange atmosphere and this works to the film's advantage.

However, I will say that I was at first hesitant to review Enemy, but only for one reason. Nothing, and I mean nothing out of the ordinary is explained or developed. I'm talking about the spiders. Now if you've seen the film you know what I mean by this, but if you have not had the time to view Enemy I'm not going to spoil anything else. I couldn't even if I wanted to. 

Enemy's major flaw is not the style, but rather the handling of the substance. When I walk out of a theater I don't want to leave empty handed. I want to leave with a sense of clarity, and this film has nothing resolved or clarified. However, I also want to leave with an open end. And Enemy is deliciously open-ended from beginning to the wonderfully stylized end credits that only add more mystery to its design. 

Enemy is very puzzling. Very, very puzzling. And I think that it is because of this that I am unable to properly analyze or confidently critique it as a film. But I suppose that part of a review is to capture ones experience, and I think I've done that. At least I hope that I have done that. Don't misinterpret me. This review is not a cautionary tale.  If anything, it is the complete opposite. I want everyone to watch this movie, because I haven't an absolute clue as to what it means. I don't know, what did you think about it?


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Joe: 2013

I am very glad that David Gordon Green has found a film formula that he can proudly call his own. I think this particular style began with Prince Avalanche released earlier this year. At first glance it looks to be very independent, however, the simplicity of the story and atmosphere merely act as an outer wall for deeper, more emotional film making. And this works to Joe's advantage; taking a simple idea and a small-town sort of an atmosphere, and expanding it to reveal it's fantastic (albeit deep-seeded) secrets. 
Joe is about the arguable main character, Joe (Nicholas Cage) an ex-con, attempting to start his life over by running  his own "tree poisoning" business. However, the plot gives way to another story about a boy named Gary (played by Tye Sheridan) a child of abuse, who despite the odds, tries to make a living working for Joe. These two stories compliment each other with their own share of development and attention, and it's not too clear as to which of the main stories we should be focusing on. But that's not a bad thing. Each character feels just as interesting as the other, regardless of their situations, and this segways gracefully into a greater connection between Joe and Gary. 

Joe takes it's time with development, and it really seems as though the sub-plot of Joe's shadowy criminality is passed over for a more heart-ached father/son story. I did like the development of Joe the most, and even though this had something to do with the writing and direction, I could clearly see that the genius behind Cage's character, was Cage himself. All I can say is that I have almost never seen this side of Nick Cage before. He is simply wonderful, in execution, in delivery, and he almost wins me over (and I can see that he's trying) but the scenes where he gets angry could use a little work. Or maybe they don't and I just can't take him seriously when he gets angry anymore. However, Cage has come a loooonnnnnggg way in terms of flipping out on film. Trust me. 

David Gordon Green's characterizations are best parts of Joe and while the kind of film that it is at the center is good in its own right, it's the character's that shine through. Everyone is very real and this may not fair well against the parts of the film that play like an action flick, the final product holds up well. Joe fall in between emotionally realistic, and so close to camp enjoyment (even though it lies closer to the former). Every actor is wonderful, and Nick Cage has certainly turned a new leaf in terms of his acting career. For Joe's sake, I hope it works out. 


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Misery: 1990

   There's this weird treatment that Stephen King novels get when being adapted to film and television. While his novel adaptations into "Mini-Series" have become infamous for their lack of direction, laughable production value and terrible acting, his other films have become cinematic classics. A couple really good Stephen King novels that have been made into movies include The ShiningCarrieStand By Me, and The Shawshank Redemption. The great thing about each and every one of these films (not excluding this one) is that they all are really good, and each have their own style while still retaining the same essence of fear and suspense that King so often adds in his writing. Although Rob Reiner's Misery is not graced as the greatest Stephen King adaptation, it is certainly an honorable mention, and truly a classic from the horror category. 

   Misery is about Paul Sheldon (James Caan), a writer who has just finished the final book in his series entitled, "Misery". After getting into a car accident during a blizzard he is rescued by a die hard fan (and deranged ex-nurse) named Annie Wilkes (Cathy Bates). When Wilkes finds Sheldon's final book she is horrified to read that he has killed the main character of the series as a finale, and forces him to write a new book. Throughout the film, there is this underlying theme of isolation. Paul Sheldon spends almost the entirety of the film on the Wilkes' farm, which is planted significantly far from any means of help, or any hope of escape.

Like I said, most of the film takes place in the Wilkes' farmhouse where Paul Sheldon is held captive, isolated from the rest of the world for close to the entire movie. And that's the key word here: isolation. Rob Reiner does a great job of making you feel like you are alone with Sheldon. You do get to look outside of the house to see the lazy, but fortunately keen sheriff, Buster, played by Richard Farnsworth attempt to solve the case of the missing writer. I didn't think about it at the time, but I now find it very clever the way that Buster concludes Wilkes to be the kidnapper and killer. Cathy Bates' performance as Annie is the first and foremost reason why this is a good film. Her sweet and tender outer shell lures you into a false state of security, so when she snaps for the first time it's actually scary. This "ticking time bomb" of sorts is built up perfectly from beginning to end. The film has a wonderful way of taking you through different kinds of fear. I can't explain this without spoiling what happens in the end, but I will say that whatever you thought was going to happen...It's much worse than that.

"Misery" is surprising. As soon as you're comfortable with where the film has established itself, it has an abrupt way of changing the game, setting new rules, and escalating the tension and fear till the apex. Reiner's filming can get away with some corniness here and there among the torture and bloodshed, but at the core "Misery" proves to be cold-hearted in tone, and incredible in execution.


Monday, April 28, 2014

Inside Llewyn Davis: 2013

Enter the year 1961, Greenwich Village. Hole in the wall clubs and bars house an open mic for starving folk artists. The streets and sidewalks are woven together with the wealthy and the less successful. And here, slid in between the record sleeves of his past and present, stands Llewyn Davis, a folk singer struggling to make a living in New York. Being homeless, his trek to find shelter at the mercy of his friends mimics his trek to become recognized by the public of the Chicago and New York night life. The film is complimented by its own soundtrack composed by Oscar Isaac as Llewyn, Carey Mulligan as Jean Berkley, and Justin Timberlake as Jim Berkley. Jean and Jim, who appear as a saving grace to Llewyn, are only characterized by their ability to keep him out of the gutter for a couple of days. Not much attention is put on them as respectable characters, and this might have to do with Davis’ callous and sarcastic attitude which has keep him distant from his close friends and even his father. 

Oscar Isaac is wonderfully cold in his role as Llewyn, however, there is overwhelming beauty among the awkward and inconvenient tone. This in a way provides a sort of contrast between the main character's journey and the main character himself. This works in the same way that the music does. It sets a very sad but relaxing and calming tone. It feels to me like the blissful thought of losing all hope; terribly bitter, but terribly content. I've been playing around with this theory that llewyn's music has lost all meaning to him. He needs to sing to make a living, but he doesn't care about what he's singing (at least anymore). And there's sort of an irony to that because he needs to care in order to sell what he's singing in order to sell his new album, entitled, "Inside Llyewn Davis". But I don't think there's anything inside him. Or at least that's what I think. I haven't seen any admiration or thanks or anything good come from him, besides his music. I don't think there's anything inside him worth selling, or worth buying. But that's just my theory. 

The film is directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, in my opinion one of the most versatile film makers to date, and “Inside Llewyn Davis” is no exception to their unwavering talent. The film is a tragedy, but it isn’t sad. That is to say that nothing good ever happens to Davis or anyone ever. He isn’t a kind or caring person in the least, and one could make the argument that he deserves every slab of misfortune served to him. However, nearing the third quarter of the film we begin to understand the basis for Llewyn’s constantly contemptuous disposition, and you start to feel bad for him. You don’t want him to overcome these obstacles because he is deserves to, but because you are the only person that understands the cause for his unhappiness.  “Inside Llewyn Davis” is an honorable mention for one of the Coen brothers’ best films.  


Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Haunting: 1963

Release date: September 18, 1963 (USA)
Director: Robert Wise
Adaptations: The Haunting (1999)
Adapted from: The Haunting of Hill House
MPAA rating: G

Let us all give a hand to one very talented man, by the name of Robert Wise. A man who is able to make one of the greatest musicals of all time, as well as some fantastic horror films. Ending his film making career after close to fifty years, he has come to be known as a true inspiration to us all. Honestly, the guy's a genius! You take the genre of musicals and define it, using one film as a precedent for all musicals to come after, and then you do it again, directing and producing one of the greatest (and in my opinion scariest) ghost stories of all time.  And now, without further ado...The Haunting!

The film follows one Eleanor Lance and her dangerous exploits to feel wanted by someone, anyone. She is invited by Dr. John Markway to take part in an experiment on fear at "Hill House", a residence with a very twisted past. The house is believed to be haunted, but as we continue to lower ourselves even further into the muck of Lane's mind, we are also plagued with the question "Is the house haunted, or is Eleanor?" It's a fantastic premise, and the perfect buildup to a ghost story done right. 

But how do you make a good ghost story? Well, in my opinion, it comes down to a few elements. First you have to have a developed background about the house that the haunting is taking place in. I won't give away the spooky background of the haunting of Hill House, so you'll just have to trust me when I say, "It's kind of a big deal". Next, you need compelling characters to frighten or be frightened by...The character of Eleanor Lance is exceptional for this part because as we get to know her better we are compassionate towards her and don't want her to get into any trouble, but there remains still a sense of lingering uncertainty regarding her actions and delusions of grandeur. There is a duality that I don't think any other character presents to her but herself, and therein lies the craft of her character! We as an audience do not know if she is a character to be trusted for we are introduced to her in a rather violent way. First we don't see her in a very positive light. She argues with her siblings who think she's crazy. We are invited into her inner monologues that tell a great deal about her inner psychosis and deep seeded issues. 

She is invited to Hill House and does not know who else will be there besides Markway, the man who invited her; she only knows that for once in her life she is expected. That someone (it didn't matter who) wanted her to be somewhere (it didn't matter where). Robert Wise deals with this urge to be wanted by someone. Lance is constantly remarking (sometimes silently) that even though she is afraid, she was still expected to be here. And it's actually her inner desires and flaws that haunt her, as opposed to the ghosts of Hill House. But I could talk about Eleanor and her role in the story for hours on end, so it's best that I leave you here in terms of character design and simply say that everything about her , from beginning to end is perfect. And this has a little to do with what I had mentioned earlier as well as the rest of the cast being sort of one sided and simpler than Eleanor's character.

The set design in "The Haunting" is truly frightening. And this brings up an important topic, about what it is that actually scares people. Most people think that "horror", at least in film terms, must be updated to stay fresh in the minds of the consumer. That if you've seen it once, you never want to see it again. Now, this is sort of true. Of course an idea that is used time and time again might seem a little cheap and shallow to general audiences. Like a jump scare, if it's used too many times in the same window it ceases to be scary because you expect it, and you can pick up on certain cues to prepare yourself. And I have no problem with jump scares...when they're done right, but if I start to talk about that, I'll just keep going, and this review will never end. The point is an idea done before can be scary if everything around the stale idea is fresh and, well, executed correctly.

Let's use this film as an example. As Iv'e explained earlier, this is a movie about "ghosts" in a haunted house scaring people. And on the surface, that's all it is. It's what's under the surface that makes this film work, and actually scary. First, there's the house itself. The set and location of "The Haunting" is amazing. I just love it, from the long, creepy, narrow hallways to the damp creepy garden with the creepy statues, and the creepy staircase, and the super scary nursery with the creepy double doors and the dude's all like, "don't go in there, it's the heart of the house," and his wife's all like, "I don't even care if I'm awakening this self aware haunted house that has the souls of hundreds of children trapped in the walls..." "Who careeees?" "I don't care." And then there are, like, all those parts where the camera gets really close to the walls of the house, and the intricate designs start to look like faces and then you start to hear children laughing, and crying faintly, and then you hear like, this one creepy dude that Markway was talking about before. Y'know, the guy who owned the house, and you start to hear the creepy dude making this super scary, far off, moaning noise, that gets louder and louder from the other side of the wall. And then you start to think to yourself, "Hey this house means business! This is scaring the pants off of me! And the worst part is that the only person I know well enough to hide Eleanor Lane. But how can I do that when all this might be in her head? What if she's the haunting of Hill House? How can I trust someone who might not be entirely sane to begin with? Why Robert Wise? Why would you direct a film where the only character we know well enough to consider our main protagonist, our hero, is possibly insane? There's no one to hold onto, is there? There's nowhere to hide, is there? Sweet Jesus someone let me out of this house!!!!!!!!!!!

Sufficed to say, "The Haunting" is ahead of its time. And part of the reason that it stands out among the rest of the sixties schlock that was coming out around the time like "Carnival of Souls",  and "The Brain That Wouldn't Die" was because of the serious tone, and the cinematography. The camera work in "The Haunting" is unlike anything I've seen during that age in film. Everything works to the film's advantage; The acting, set design, shots and angles and tracking, and the story! I'm happy that a film exists containing all these attributes. And I really can't think of anything more to say. I guess it's been awhile since I've written anything. And I think it's been awhile since I've written anything with a lot of substance. I do this for me. And I do it because I like to think about movies. I want to continue, but it's been hard. I turned 18 a few weeks ago. School's been laying it on pretty thick for awhile now. But I don't think I want to grow up. I just want to write.


Watch Trailer Here
Next Review: Misery - 1990

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Dawn of The Dead: 1978

Release date: May 24, 1979 (USA)
Director: George A. Romero
Prequel: Night of the Living Dead
Sequel: Day of the Dead

Screenplay: George A. Romero

"When there's no more room in @#!*% , the dead will walk the earth...and George A. Romero will direct a sequel to Night of the Living Dead". Dawn of the Dead is drastically different from it's predecessor for many reasons. I couldn't tell you which of the two is the better one for this reason. They are both great zombie movies in their own ways. But I don't want to talk about "Night of the Living Dead" because I already did. Let's dive right into the sub-genre that won't stay dead! This is "Dawn of the Dead".

Four people try to survive inside of a shopping mall inhabited by zombies. 
Many wacky hi-jinks ensue.  

The film begins just like any zombie film introducing us to the situation at hand. Romero teaches newcomers what a zombie is without someone shouting exposition...almost. We are also introduced to two people who work in news and two others who work as SWAT's (or police or something like that). These four people will take the audience out of one genre, and into another...sort of. I mean, we all know what a zombie is, right? For whatever reason, the dead rise from the earth and devour the living. The living die and turn into zombies. Rinse and repeat. And this is scary! Mostly a film like this will stay within the confines of horror, but there are certain moments where "Dawn of the Dead" turns into a comedy! And it works for one main reason. The zombies serve a different purpose than they did in "Night of the Living Dead". In that film, zombies appeared at night, at cemeteries, hunting the living who needed to band together in an abandoned house or cabin, in the middle of nowhere. These ideas are very Gothic and dark and they all work. For George A. Romero a zombie movie wasn't defined by how fast the zombies ran. In fact, the focus was on everything but. 

You focus on the characters and their efforts to work together and survive. You focus on the mood and setting, be it cemetery, or shopping mall. Production value is a whole different thing, and if you want a vomit inducing film then practical effects are the way to go, and we'll get to that later. But at the moment those elements are all you really need in a good zombie film. But I think that "Dawn of the Dead" took the genre one step further by having zombies serve as a statement rather than a plot device. The film explained that the reason so many zombies have congregated inside the mall is because is was their basic human instinct to do so. They all traveled to a place where they once felt happy. I think that this idea alone is what made "Dawn of the Dead" a comedy for me. And I can't really explain how even having people being eaten alive by zombies won't take comedic value away from it. If you don't really consider it as a sequel to "Night of the Living Dead", and look at it as it's own world, then you shouldn't have a problem with the differences between the two.

And the shopping mall! What a wonderful place to have all to yourself! I believe that "Dawn of the Dead" is the first to experiment with this sort of thing, because afterwards movies and games have taken this idea to other levels. But it all started in a shopping mall. Maybe the idea of having everything for the taking is capitalizing on this idea of greed, and a need to need things. I think that it's sort of a parallel to how zombies need to consume the living to stay un-dead. And that's pretty cool. I mean, if that's what Romero was going for. I might be thinking too deeply into that, but it might be something to think about.

The practical effects in "Dawn of the Dead" are amazing! They only show up mostly during the last quarter of the film, but it's totally worth the wait. And that isn't to say that the film pays off then, or that someone who doesn't appreciate practical effects isn't going to like it. You're going to like "Dawn of the Dead" if you enjoy a good zombie movie. There's surprisingly more survival aspects in this film than it's predecessor. You spend a little more time loving the characters than you do hating them, I can't complain about the actors...hell, I don't think I can complain about anything. But if I had to find something to nitpick I suppose it would have to be the lack of psychological trauma. I would have liked to see the whole shopping center, where everything's all fake and smiling, be contrasted by someone losing their grip on reality. But maybe I'm wrong, and this isn't the film for that kind of approach. And if I am wrong, then this movie is fantastic. All elements of a zombie film are done correctly and very well, the setting and characters are original, the effects are stunning, and I just love this movie so much! I could write a book about George A. Romero and why this movie is so good, but I guess now I don't have to.


Watch the Trailer
  Next Review -  Little Miss Sunshine 2006

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Her: 2013

Release date: December 18, 2013 (USA)
Director: Spike Jonze
Running time: 126 minutes
MPAA rating: R
Music composed by: Arcade Fire
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Joaquin Phoenix

Spike Jonze is a...different kind of director. In my opinion he's part of the good kind of different kind of director. And that's a good thing. But he is also in my opinion a very strange person. And that could be a good thing. It was for this reason that I didn't really know what to expect going into "Her"., that's not..."going into the theaters to see "Her", that doesn't sound right either...going into the theaters to watch" I watched "Her: A Spike Jonze Love Story, okay? That's what I'm trying to say. Jeez. Okay, let's do this.
A guy named Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) falls in love with an operating system named Samantha (Scarllet Johannson). Many strange and awkward Hi-Jinx ensue.

   So this movie's set in the very near future where there's a lot of hiked up pants and button down shirts and self aware, self evolving operating systems...I don't see any problem with that. No! No really! It's good! It's good to have a program that can replicate and broaden their perspectives of the world, becoming smarter and smarter. A program who can learn and react to seconds! A program that can emote and understand the human mind better than humans themselves! Dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria!

   But fine! It's Spike Jonze, and he's this really weird guy. I guess from this particular perspective there could be no logical reason for an OS to rise against the human race. I mean no one explains how it works from a technical standpoint (for the most part). So, is Samantha (the OS) a plot device? An unexplained idea used in order to further the story? Well, I don't think so. I mean, Samantha plays a huge part in the story. She is the love interest after all. Although I can see how people might assume that since she, from a technological standpoint, is not developed very much might seem like one. But, I don't think that that's a bad thing so to speak. The only thing I can say in order to justify the vagueness of this evolutionary technological advancement is that Jonze didn't want the audience to have a reason not to side with Samantha's "robot" traits more than her "human" traits. If you explain the science behind her being able to do the things she can do, you lose some credibility for the believable "not-so-far-away" future you have constructed as a setting because using some scientific techno-babble for explanation is not so...professional. Just because it would work in Star Trek does not mean it will work for "Her". This is dating advice I have followed for a very long time. 

   You also alienate the audience from condoning with the socially confusing act of hooking up with a computer. If you were to explain in more detail how Samantha "ticks" you are less likely to be able to wrap the idea of this being a love story around your head...y'know...if you weren't already. But regardless, "Her" is actually very good. It wastes no time in using Joaquin Phoenix's character as a...well...character study of human beings in general. Jonze uses Scarllet Johannson's character as a new perspective on things we find to be normal or acceptable in society. Both actors give excellent performances not just as themselves, but as a unit. And for a film like this, that sort of thing is very important. The illusion of compatibility, challenge, and conflict in a relationship are all executed very well. Like most relationship films (or "Love Stories") the narrative flies between moments in Theodore's and Samantha's life. Although not as heavy handed as say, "Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind" or personal as "Annie Hall" which both work fine to each movie's credit, it certainly is unique enough to stand out among the other, lesser, tearjerker's of the ages.

   The writing is very good as well, playing with Amy Adams' strengths more than any other film I have seen her in. Truly she is in her prime. I really don't have anything negative to say about "Her" other than there being a few missed opportunities (one of which being the lack of incredibly loud controversies on man/robot relations). And maybe I'm not getting the big picture, and "Her" was never really about the future of societal culture, or what defines a human being, or "the human condition" or whatever you want to call it. I liked "Her". She's funny, unique, smart, in a philosophical sort of way, very strange, but very beautiful. So, if you're into that sort of thing you should check "Her" out!

    ...Jesus, you know I couldn't let an opportunity like that pass, right? Of course I have to write something. It's who I am. I interject a lot of my mannerisms into my writing. That way it's like I'm talking to you, as opposed to me writing to someone I don't know. So, you'll have to forgive me. But if you've read up to here, at least you took the time. Thanks.