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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

August: A Month in Review

This past month marked my official return to full-time reviewing. With about 30 movies reviewed I now have a solid amount of movies to reminisce about by reading my own writing -- it is a real joy to be vain. Nothing makes a movie passion feel more satisfying than when you write about your opinions about certain films. Yes, my reviews tend to be quite in-depth, but I feel that for the most part I keep from giving away too much; I paint a picture of what the films is like and some of that specific films good, and bad, qualities while also leaving enough a mystery to where the experience isn't ruined.

Enough with my pointless rambling, now it is time for the duty at hand: With all the films I have watched and reviewed this month, I have had some wonderful highs, and sickening lows. I have come up with many different ways to compare, list, and rate the films I have reviewed in various different classifications. I hope you enjoy my different ways at praising, comparing, and even attacking the many films I have seen this month. Here is my month in review:

Them (2007)

Rating: 2/4

Home invasion horror films have always been a popular sub-genre, they bring out those fears that we had as children; monsters in the closet and shadowy figures in the darkness are the most popular. The problem with Them is that by making it realistic there is nothing to really grab our attention. Starting with a mother driving with her rebellious daughter after what we can assume was the mother finding out something not too wonderful about her daughter's personal life. The mother swerves to avoid a figure standing in the road and crashes into a pole, when she goes out to fix the car she disappears, leaving her daughter all alone. All alone the daughter is killed by a mysterious killer. Now the film jumps to the story at hand; Clementine (Olivia Bonamy) has moved from France to her Romania with her writer boyfriend, Lucas (Michael Cohen), where she takes up a job teaching middle school. Their house is secluded and creepy. We are not given any foreplay, at all, before the jump-out scare attempts commence. On the first night we see them together a group of mysterious figures appeal with violent intentions.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Virgin Spring (1960)

Rating: 4/4

The story is extremely simple: A beautiful virgin girl named Karin (Birgitta Valberg) is on her way to take candles to her church but before she gets to church she is raped and murdered by two herdsmen (Axel Duberg and Tor Isedal) with their younger brother (Ove Porath) and Karin's pregnant foster sister, Ingeri (Gunnel Lindblom), as their horrified audience. Ensuing is Karin's father Tore's (Max von Sydow) vengeance. To have any real discussion about Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring and not go into detail about its plot is a near impossible task; the real brilliance lies in how Bergman makes such a simple story a shocking and powerful work of beauty.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Oldboy (2003)

Rating: 4/4

When we first see Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) he is being held at a local police station for what we can easily assume is for drunken misconduct, he is then bailed out by his friend (Ji Dae Han), but not 5 minutes after being released he disappears. For reasons unknown to him Oh Dae-su is locked into a room where he is kept for 15 years, once released he vows to get revenge on whoever locked him up. But is it revenge or answers that he wants? That is a question asked multiple times throughout the film, when those "answers" are revealed his outlook on life is twisted to unimaginable extremes. Once the credits start running we will have seen the darkest depths of human nature.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Naked Lunch (1991)

Rating: 2/4

William S. Burroughs (1914-1997) was one of the most important writers of the Beat Generation, his novel Naked Lunch is one of the most well known books of that time, creating equal amounts of shock and awe. Like Allen Ginsberg's Howl, Burroughs faced an obscenity trial that helped his book gain even more popularity. His work was effected by his excessive drug use which made his writing pace very inconsistent and his books very drug based. For many years he was a heroin addict, sporadically using those experiences in his work was something he would do his entire career.  On August 2, 1997 Burroughs suffered a heart attack, he was 83-years-old.

Naked Lunch loosely incorporates parts of William S. Burroughs' classic novel of the same name, two of his other novels Junkie, Exterminator! and Queer, with just much of it being inspired by his actual life. Just like the novel that inspired it, this film is not the least bit coherent with the feel of a continuous drugged out haze. For a long time Naked Lunch was considered "un-filmable", in many respects it still is, David Cronenberg goes crazy with Burroughs' ideas, qualities, and ways of life without attempting to bring them together in any sensible way. A sporadically random collection of images and characters.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

The crew of Monty Python's first film feature is one to cherish. Made between their third and fourth seasons, they were given much more freedom with this film after the success of their sketch complication film And Now For Something Completely Different (1971). It is known that there was many creative differences between directors Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam, but in a way it helped this film. Each scene could be shown as its own individual sketch, their brand of humor is so original, so blissfully stilly that even there stupidity comes off seeming smart. Based loosely on the legend of King Arthur who is played with an understanding of how to make the material work gloriously by Graham Chapman. Gilliam's now legendary animation is perfect form working perfectly with the live-action; some real gems created from his animation is a representation of God who is made to almost identically resemble W. G. Grace, then there is the terrifying Black Beast of Aaargghhhh. Getting one to two really good laughs out of any comedy is always something impressive, the real reason to watch a comedy is for light-hearted fun, Monty Python and the Holy Grail is as light-hearted a film as you will ever see with a delightfully silly humor with its fair share of impressively smart social and political satire. Each Python member graduated from a respected college with Terry Jones being an Oxford graduate, so they know how to be intelligent with their stupidity. This film is not as known for its daring satire as their later films, most notably The Life of Brian (1979), but their comedic talents are just as good and truly something in a league of its own.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Peeping Tom (1960)

Rating: 4/4

While doing some research on Michael Powell's controversial experimental horror film, Peeping Tom (1960), I realized that this here is one of those timeless films that can be interpreted in endless ways, making it a film lover's delight. Director Martin Scorsese says that it is like Federico Fellini's 8 1/2 because it says everything that can be said about filmmaking and the process of dealing with a film, this film being a violating experience. I can imagine there being groups of film students talking for hours about all the different things going on in this film, all the conflicting themes and visual tricks that creating such a shocking atmosphere. And isn't that why we love films? Well if you ask a modern audience the answers will be much more reserved, but there will always be that group who is always looking for those deeper meanings in every film.

Friday, August 19, 2011

sex, lies, and videotape (1989)

Rating: 3.5/4

For a plot with so much tension Steven Soderbergh's vital indie film "sex, lies, and videotape" moves at a very slow, uninterrupted pace. Opening with timid housewife Anne Millaney (Andie MacDowell) telling her psychiatrist her fears and odd obsessions of the day. She does not think much of sex. Telling her psychiatrist, and trying to convince herself, that she would rather spend her time worrying about the real troubles of the world like starvation and the over supply of garbage than about such a minor part of life like sex. No matter how many times Anne convinces herself that sex in only a minor, unnecessary, part of life she still will not be able to avoid just how much of an impact sex alone with have on her life. At around the same moment Anne's lawyer husband John (Peter Gallagher) goes through a regular routine of ditching major clients to have an affair with Anne's sister, Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo).

Thursday, August 18, 2011

From Paris with Love (2010)

Rating: 1.5/4

From Paris with Love works best as one continuous, though still unimpressive, action sequence. At one point in the film CIA special agent Charlie Wax (John Travolta) remarks that he has killed 26 men in 24 hours in which his low-level partner James Reese (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) remarks "that's about one an hour." I didn't even notice, they could have said 40 and I would not have been surprised. Coming from Pierre Morel who directed the Taken (2008), which was another action film with an excessively high body-count.  Liam Neeson's performance in Taken most likely created the type role he will be typecast in for many years to come, though at least his performance was still emotionally charged.

Deadgirl (2008)

Rating: 0/4

When rebellious teenagers Rickie (Shiloh Fernandez) and J.T. (Noah Segan) discover a naked woman (Jenny Spain) who is barely "alive" and chained to a table deep in the tunnels of an abandoned mental hospital, their lives change forever. Rickie wants to release her, but J.T.'s twisted ways come to a head when he decides to keep her as a sex slave. Their slave is nicknamed "Deadgirl" after J.T. realizes that this mysterious women cannot die, and thus their lives and the lives of everyone that get in their way are forever changed also. And there is the outrageous sickening idea of the maliciously vile film, Deadgirl. Showing us the cliched, horny teenagers and giving them a sadistic and evil outlet for their sick sexual pleasures, only a truly troubled mind would want to make an idea like this into a film.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Chasing Amy (1997)

Rating: 3.5/4

Kevin Smith's Chasing Amy has sets and conversations/discussions/rants that resemble a rauncy sit-com with the emotional understanding of a gripping character-drama. Studying the varying forms of love and friendship in a brilliantly understanding way we can all relate to. Smith jumped onto the scene with his film Clerks (1994) which follows two store clerks through their day-to-day exploits which mostly consists of banter about sex, drugs, and normal social issues which Smith has mastered simply by living life and observing. Mallrats (1995), Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001), and Clerks II (2006) are all films that were very hit-and-miss. His witty humor that incorporates everything from sex and fart jokes to brutally-honest social commentary never fails, though his overall stories are known for being more immature.

Army of Shadows (1969)

Rating: 4/4

Through Army of Shadows, Jean-Pierre Melville takes the mystique of French Resistance during World War II and shows it for what it really was. Opening in October of 1942 and ending a year later. During that year, we follow various members of the French Resistance as we get a very exclusive inside look at their missions and all the risk and terror that comes with fighting against Nazi-occupation at a time when Germany was still in control of much of Europe. Melville does not glamorize their duties, there are no elaborate heists or professional looking killings. A rescue attempt that has the build-up to compare with the heist scene from his style-drive crime-drama, Le Cercle Rouge (1970), quickly evaporates with a sequence of events that is very tragic and real.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Le Cercle Rouge (1970)

Rating: 4/4

Jean-Pierre Melville creates a new world of crime in each of his films. His worlds are controlled by criminals who view their work like a corrupt politician desperate to not get caught while working right in broad daylight. Even an off-road coffee shop looks as beautiful as many fine-dinning restaurants anywhere else. Films like Le Doulos (1962), Le Samourai (1967), and now with Le Cercle Rouge make life look like one endless glamorous moment, even with crime and murder as a key element. I would be surprised if Melville ever considered the making of any of his films actual work. Everything always flows so easily, when I watched one of his films it makes me feel like I could make something just like it, but as we all know he was a master. Le Cercle Rouge is not powered by any one performance and Melville has created more lasting characters in his previous films, but what is does here is make characters that work perfectly with a plot that shows him reach plotting greatness.

Le Doulos (1962)

Rating: 3.5/4

"One has to choose. To lie...Or to die" and that little tagline perfectly describes both the plot and characters of Jean-Pierre Melville's twisty crime-drama, Le Doulos. Here is a dialogue-driven film that goes by American film noir tendencies with a deceptive charm. Melville never fails at creating characters with irresistible suave that nullifies just about all of their flaws. Sometimes Melville has put more of his effort into the slick, effortlessly cool look of his films than into the stories that they tell. Jean-Luc Godard did the same thing in his debut film Breathless (1960), but if it wasn't for them putting so much of his time and effort into the look and visual style of those films from the early 60s, the French New Wave just wouldn't have been the same.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Blue Velvet (1986)

Rating: 2/4

Visionary director David Lynch brings his dream-like imagery to the small town of Lumberton. Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLauchlan) returns home from college after his father suffers a stroke, on his way back from visiting his father in the hospital he discovers a severed ear near an abandoned cabin. He takes the ear to detective John Williams (George Dickerson) and he meets the detective's daughter, Sandy (Laura Dern). Sandy reveals details that she overheard he father  her father mentioning about a suspicious  women named Dorthy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini), who is a local club performer. What Jeffrey describes as youthful intrigue and a chance for a memorable experience the rest of us would call stupidity, thus beginning his journey through a shocking underworld with no abundance of sadism, rape, and gruesome murder.

In Bruges (2008)

Rating: 4/4

In Bruges gives off the initial appearance of a goofy dark comedy with a  slapstick performance by Collin Farrell, but it turns into a very emotional film with very real characters. Using a type of comedy that makes us unable to resist laughing at things we would usually try very hard to not laugh at, but surprisingly it never feels forced. The type of humor that In Bruges uses perfectly goes with the personalities of the characters making perfectly executed humor. Martin McDonagh creates a perfect blend of dirty, at times mean-spirited, comedy with genuine emotion that could easily bring someone to tears. An all around entertainment treat

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Switchblade Sisters (1975)

Rating: 1.5/4

By viewing Jack Hill's Switchblade Sisters we are given a glimpse of the look and feel of exploitation films when they were at their prime. Set during a time where the U.S.'s involvement in the Vietnam war was ending, but American social problems were still at an angry blaze. Youths of that generation were aware of the civil unrest and economic struggles that were keeping the entire country restless. When youths feel their situations are hopeless it is inevitable for them to become angry and settle on momentary pleasures that will take their mind off of their troubled situations. With that it is very gradual transition for youths to become addicted to drugs and involved in crimes of all sorts.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Hobo with a Shotgun (2011)

Rating: 3/4

An unnamed homeless man (Rutger Hauer) arrives at Hope Town (the name is one of the many blatantly ironic moments) where he witnesses The Drake (Brian Downey) and his two sons Slick (Gregory Smith) and Ivan (Nick Bateman) doing a routine act of horrifically clever sadism. Just like that we are introduced to the majority of the important characters. As Hobo (all that he is ever referred to) explores his new home he discovers that this new town is run by The Drake with fear and violence having control over everyone. When he sees beautiful hooker Abby (Molly Dunsworth) being attacked by Slick he sweeps in for the rescue, but he soon discovers just how lost in corruption this little town is. Though his good deed does not go unnoticed, Abby offers a helping hand and he sees some unique light in her tortured eyes. But Abby's nice gesture doesn't stop Hobo from coming to his ultimate decision that crime must be stopped "one shell at a time."

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Atonement (2007)

Rating: 3.5/4

Atonement is a tragic love story that shows how the ignorant point-of-view of a young, innocent girl can make true love crumble. Here is a film that within its understandable sappiness makes you truly care for everything that happens in all of its 123 minute running time. We are taken on an emotional ride through the tragedy of love and human nature. Based off of Ian McEwan's classic novel of the same name, this beautiful looking film has a lot of terror and sadness overtaking it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Cabin Fever (2002)

Rating: 1.5/4

Eli Roth wrote the script for Cabin Fever with two major plans in mind: 1) To use his love for his favorite movies which includes Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead (1981), Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), and Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left (1972) and use thier unique qualities in his own film. 2) To make a remorseless violent film that will leave all the wimpy PG13 horror movies in shameful dust. Incorporating the campy paranoia of The Evil Dead with the hillbilly backroots feel of The Texas Chainsaw Masscare along with the not-as-it-seems plot feel of The Last House on the Left with a gore level and body count that makes it impossible to get attacked to any character. By achieving all of its assigned goals you would expect Cabin Fever to become a modern horror classic, but it doesn't.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Insidious (2011)

Rating: 2.5/4

Three men who have made a major impact on 21st century horror films are behind the making of Insidious. Writer Leigh Whannell and director James Wan who are the creators of the never ending Saw franchise that popularized the modern torture-porn sub-genre. Along with them is producer Oren Peli who directed the "found footage" style supernatural horror film, Paranormal Activity (2007), that became one of the most financially successful horror films of the decade. Those men working together was sure to create a lot of hype which is justified and worked with very well.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Season of the Witch (2011)

Rating: 0.5/4

Season of the Witch is one of those unfortunate films that you can tell just how bad it will be within the first ten minutes. There is not one redeeming factor to make this film at least tolerable, it is as lost as the historical time period it fails terribly at portraying. Dominic Sena creates a film that will make a film lover sick. Abusing history with an idiotic view of the 14th century along with showing absolutely no understanding of religion. Making a major error of settling for a PG13 rating -- one of the dirtiest and most gruesome looking PG13 rated films -- at least an excessive amount of gore would have made its stupidity a little more reasonable. I have tried, and failed, to find anything respectable going on with this film. A film that came immediately to my mind while watching this is Uwe Boll's shockingly bad video game adaptation, Bloodrayne (2005). Both are dirty and cheap looking, lacking any artistic talent or even over-the-top enough to lead to any sort of cult status.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Source Code (2011)

Rating: 3/4

Source Code is a sci-fi thriller that is visually impressive with a complex premise. Running of his critically acclaimed, sci-fi drama Moon (2009),  Duncan Jones does a splendid job at being able to make such a complex film commercial. Having Jake Gyllenhaal as your lead helps, but we don't watch films like Source Code to find gripping performances. We watch them to being sucked in by their plots as well as mystified by the visuals. Both of those aspects have their moments of brilliance, but the visuals are never given the chance to stun us as it seemed possible.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A History of Violence (2005)

Rating: 3/4

Based on John Wagner and Vincent Locke's graphic novel of the same name, A History of Violence is a rare experience for viewers. No matter how much you think you know, or even actually know, the film still finds ways to shock you with what you were expecting. It is the way it is done that is the real surprise. Using a small town as the primary setting makes a story like this make us question just who is living next door. Viggo Mortensen plays local restaurant owner Tom Stall who has a normal loving family who are respected by all in their small community at Millbrook, Indiana. His family consists of his wife Edie (Maria Bello), teenage son Jack (Ashton Holmes), and young daughter Sarah (Heidi Hayes). When Tom's restaurant is held up by two drifting killers Tom jumps into action, he kills both men showcasing a surprising talent for protecting himself. By stopping the two killers Tom becomes a local celebrity, getting his name in the paper along with interview requests. With a new celebrity  mobsters from Philadelphia, lead by Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris), arrive and seem to know something about Tom that he either doesn't know about or is hiding.

Brick (2005)

Rating: 3.5/4

Newcomer Rian Johnson creates a homage of the classic film noirs of the early twentienth century with respect and wonderful plotting. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Brendan Frye, a teenager who finds the body of his ex-girlfriend, Emily (Emilie de Ravin), in a storm drain which leads him to go on a dark, violent journey to discover the truth behind what happened to her. Throughout his journey he meets many memorable characters. Already taking the risk of creating, in many respects, a tribute work to film noir, Brick also takes the risk of using teenagers as the characters in its very adult narrative. A narrative that is violent and complex, forcing young characters to make decisions that the strongest adult would hesitate at making.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Spy Kids (2001)

Rating: 3.5/4

Carmen (Alexa Vega) and Juni (Daryl Sabara) Cortez don't respect or trust their parents. A story of two spies falling in love told by their mother, Ingrid Cortez (Carla Gugino), is a rare moment when the family is together, excluding their father Gregorio (Antonio Banderas). Their father is very mysterious and keeps many secrets. What they don't know, is that those stories are true. when their parents are captured by genius Fegan Floop (Alan Cumming), and his ruthless partner Minion (Tony Shalhoub) they must learn their parent's secrets along with learning how to be spies in order to save them.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Bangkok Dangerous (1999)

Rating: 3/4

In a flashback we see Kong (Pawalit Mongkolpisit), a deaf-mute hitman, as boy. He is taunted and, horrifyingly, rocked by other children. That short, but powerful, flashback is the first glimpse we get at the tortured isolation that Bangkok Dangerous' lead character has faced his entire life. Through a series of black and white flashbacks we see Kong as a janitor for a target range where he discovers a talent for shooting by visualizing his childhood tormentors. At this same target range, he meets Joe (Pisek Intrakanchit) and Aom (Patharawarin Timkul). Joe is a hitman who sees Kong's talents and takes him under his wing. With the mentoring of Joe, Kong becomes a fearless and, unintentionally, a remorseless killer. His isolation from the world has kept him from having any relationships outside Joe and Aom. That is, until he meets Fon (Premsinee Ratanasopha), a pretty woman who works at a drugstore. Through Fon's compassion, Kong sees a chance for a relationship and his fearless nature will not let him fail.

Deep Red (1975)

Rating: 3.5/4

When stylized violence meets a patient plot a horror film becomes much more than just an entertaining time. Shot in slasher movie style, but avoids glamorizing the violence while still making it very entertaining for gore freaks. Dario Argento creates blood-soaked ugly murders that are meticulously plotted with a dash of sloppy execution that reminds us of that even with the most organized murder attempts there is never any real organization is something so unnatural. Not that this movie is meant to be viewed in a realistic point-of-view, I'm not saying that, at all. Argento puts a supernatural feeling into most of his films, most notably with Suspiria (1977), where a cult of witches reek havoc on an acclaimed dance academy. Deep Red's mysterious murderer always seems to know exactly when and who to kill, which takes away from the realism but makes the plot all the more suspenseful and engrossing.

Escape from New York (1981)

Rating: 2/4

Escape from New York is an 80s action-thriller that suffers from the usual action film conventions like having wooden one-dimensional characters and by trying to send a message, but not doing anything to enforce, or even determine, its message. I think it is safe to say that in order to get cheap pleasure out of a film it must be fun. Well, this film is not very fun, despite all it has going for it. Kurt Russell was an action movie superstar all throughout the 80s and John Carpenter had earned his spot as one of the more bankable directors. Along with that, it is set in barren, dystopian Manhattan, so the scenery is without a doubt worth checking out. A premise that includes nuclear war threats, soaring crime rates, saving the president, war with the Soviet Union, a giant maximum security prison, pretty much the entire idea of the film, is definitely going to attract attention and develop a dedicated, very American, following.

The Thing (1982)

Rating: 2/4

A creature-feature from one of the most popular sci-fi and horror movie directors of all time, John Carpenter, is something to get excited for. He has a strong talent for creating shocking, action-packed, patient scares with plenty of gore. Over the years he has become known for his visually strong and always fascinating sci-fi thrillers, which makes it very interesting to watch this film. Those talents are very raw in this film, they are in need of a very lengthy thawing. Die hard horror fans with appreciate this film for its interesting premise and dedication to its title creature. For the rest of us who require more than excessive gore and violent deaths will be disappointed at the overall direction that is taken.