Wednesday, October 29, 2014
When people discuss the greatest movie ever made, it will usually lead to an intellectual discussion between movies like "Citizen Kane," "Vertigo," "Casablanca" and "2001: A Space Odyssey." But when people talk about the worst movie ever made, it is filled with laughter and pointing to two movies in particular: "Plan 9 From Outer Space" and ""Manos": The Hands Of Fate."
These two films have been the laughing-stock of all cinema since their creations in 1959 and 1966, respectively. With laughable effects, the worst acting you've ever seen, plot lines that wouldn't even cut it in a mediocre daytime soap opera and cinematography that looks like it was filmed through garbage.
"Plan 9 From Outer Space" was the "masterpiece" of the infamous B-movie director Ed Wood, who was known to make movies for little to no cost and in a hurry. As you can expect, his work suffers because of that. The plot follows a group of aliens who intend to resurrect our dead to build up an army and take over the planet, or at least that's what I think is happening. It's so hard to tell with these flamboyant aliens and their spaceships that look like nipples.
"Manos: The Hands Of Fate" was funded entirely by one man, who owned a fertilizing plant in Texas, and was filmed on an ancient camera that was fixed to shoot for roughly 30 seconds at a time. Apparently, the editor chose to not cut any shots sooner than that because every shot goes on for longer than it needs to, just showing the actors standing there looking like idiots.
While I could (sort of) describe the plot of "Plan 9," I cannot do the same for "Manos." I would need multiple flow charts and diagrams to describe what happens in this mess. There's a family going to resort, lots of driving and getting lost, they stumble across a lodge that's owned by a man who gigantic thighs (he must love his Bo-Flex), the family finds a tomb at the back of the lodge with a man worshipping the god "Manos" and has six wives and there's a lot of screaming, wrestling and Thigh-Master trying to get laid. Oh, and there's a couple making out close by that keep getting interrupted by the cops.
The cherry on top of this disaster sundae? "Manos" is Spanish for "hands." So the correct title of the film is "Hands: The Hands Of Fate."
These two tragedies of filmmaking were made by people who loved movies, but did not really understand what separates a good movie from a bad movie. They made what they saw in their heads, but only saw that vision and nothing else. They didn't realize their own vision was blurred and made no sense to anyone else.
To these guys, they got the film they wanted and were proud of that. But what we got were two candidates for the worst films ever made.
Or are they?
As much crap as "Plan 9" and "Manos" get, we still talk about these movies and continue to watch them. Both of these movies were made famous by "Mystery Science Theater 3000," a show all about watching terrible movies and ripping them apart. "Manos" is considered one of the best episodes of the series and "Plan 9" has spawned multiple live riffings by the cast of MST3K.
These films are making people laugh hysterically at the characters, effects, editing, direction and plot. Hell, I even laughed a couple of times while writing up the synopsis of "Manos" and remembered how insane that movie was.
One of the biggest reasons people watch movies is to be entertained. Whether that is through excitement, drama, laughter, suspense or any number of reasons, if a film is consistently keeping you entertained and happy, then that movie is doing something right.
Though "Manos" and "Plan 9" are not being enjoyed the way the filmmakers originally intended, people get a kick out of watching the lead detective in "Plan 9" twirl his gun around like it's a toy, blissfully unaware that he's holding a live firearm. Or watch Torgo (the guy with the massive legs) try to stand up, only for him to take over 40 seconds to do so.
That's the secret to movies which fall under the "So bad, it's good" category. From a technical level, they are the bottom of the barrel and don't deserve to be seen even once. Yet I can honestly say that I've sat through "Manos" and "Plan 9" multiple times. All willingly.
Why? Because there's a charm to watching a filmmaker aim for their work to say something and think so highly of their movie, only for it all to backfire in their own face and watch the movie implode in on itself. I have a great time laughing at how long and unnecessary the shots are in "Manos." I love the opening narration in "Plan 9" that explains nothing. Open up a beer, get a bunch of your friends together, and you'll have a blast ripping these movies apart.
Unintentional or not, "Manos" and "Plan 9" are great comedies that show the lower points of cinema and how fun it can be. And if that's the case, can they really be considered the worst films ever made? Because I don't think so.
But then, what do I consider the worst movie ever created? Stay tuned, because in the next few days, I'll unleash the greatest horror the silver screen has ever seen.
Sunday, October 26, 2014
Apparently a new film pet peeve of mine has recently appeared: Films that keep the motives and reasons for why a character is a terrible person a secret until the last ten minutes of runtime.
Seriously, this happened with "The Judge" and it pissed me off. For two and a half hours, we're in the dark about why Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall hate each other, when they should have no reason to despise the other. This could be solved with Downey Jr. (or even his daughter) asking the question, "Dad, why are you being such a grouch to me?"
But no, we have to build up the drama and pile on the hate in the movie, because audiences love it when family members despise one another and don't want to be around them and blame all their problems in the world on your siblings attempting to do the right thing, right?
Oh wait, no. That just sounds stupid and hateful for no good reason.
I bring this up because it has happened once again with the newest Bill Murray movie, "St. Vincent." Much like "The Judge," the film attempts to play to its lead actors strengths and gets lost along the way in its cliché, predictable and unimaginative story. Unlike "The Judge" though, "St. Vincent" does not give its lead actor enough room to breath and let him do his own thing.
Vincent (Bill Murray) sure leads a charmed life. He lives out of a small, broken down house in Brooklyn and constantly runs over his own fence. He drinks, smokes, gambles, swears like a sailor, has constant sex with a pregnant prostitute (Naomi Watts), and always seems to owe somebody money that he never has. Things change though when a new neighbor moves in and the mother (Melissa McCarthy) is constantly working, so Vincent has to reluctantly babysit her wimpy son.
So right off the bat, we know Vincent is a terrible human being. He is only interested in himself and would choose a world without other people if he could. Why is he like this? Until the last few minutes of the movie, this goes unexplained and unasked. He is just a grumpy angry old man because the script says so.
Story-Telling 101: If you're going to make your character an unlikable and terrible person, especially if he is your main character, you must tell us why he is like that and why we should care about a guy like this. As soon as possible. Do not hide character traits and backstory just for the sake of being dramatic.
"St. Vincent" meanders around as Vincent and the boy bond over adult activities and the kid toughens up. This would be fine if we got plenty of laughs and Bill Murray's brand of dry yet witty humor, but there is a distinct lack of that. Murray does just fine the material that is given to him, but it's obvious that he is reading from a script, and is not given room to improv and do what feels natural to him. That's what made films like "Ghostbusters" and "Groundhog Day" so enjoyable and why we all love Bill Murray.
Not to mention the film would rather be depressing and sad instead of funny and uplifting. Every character has several tragic events happen to them, including the boy getting beat up and having his keys and wallet stolen, Melissa McCarthy's character crying while explaining why she moved away from her husband and her job at the hospital and Vincent's struggle to help an old woman in a retirement home.
None of this is helped by the lack of good comedy throughout the film. You'd think with two comedic talents in Murray and McCarthy, there would be some funny moments. But as I'm writing this, I can't recall many moments that made me laugh. The sad moments stick out more than the funny ones. That is truly sad.
Overall, "St. Vincent" was a depressing snore that does not utilize that talented actors and actresses at its disposal. It is manipulative, far too sad for its own good, unfunny and predictable. The film starts to get better once we learn why Vincent is such an asshole, but it is too little too late. If you love Bill Murray, just watch "Groundhog Day" and you'll get a funnier and more worthwhile experience out of it.
Final Grade: F+
Saturday, October 25, 2014
Legacy. When you think about it, how much power does that word really have over you? For some, it is nothing. For others, it is everything.
What we leave behind in this world, how we have impacted the people around us and how the world will remember us. It can shape a man's life, trying to provide for his family and making sure they grow up to be respectable people. But once that man is long gone and many generations have passed, will his legacy mean anything? Is that man, who focused so much on making sure the world remembers him, living in a future he will never see rather than the present?
Among many other things, that is the driving force behind George Stevens' 1956 film "Giant." This epic chronicles three generations of one family out of a massive cattle ranch in Texas, focusing mostly on Bick Benedict (Rock Hudson) and his newlywed, Leslie (Elizabeth Taylor), a socialite from Maryland and must become accustom to this strange new life in the heart of desert cow country. All the while, Bick and Leslie face many perils, including themselves and egotistical farm-hand Jett Rink (James Dean), who constantly quarrels with Bick.
In a way, the story can't be any simpler. We watch as Bick and Leslie fight, their own lifestyles and personal choices getting in the way, raise their kids, decide what is right for themselves and their children and the consequences of those actions. The conflict is not forced in any way, as the drama and resulting action comes naturally from the characters.
The main flaw within many of these characters is too much pride. Bick has so much pride in the legacy of the Benedict family line that he must keep it going, and his son must keep it going after him. But he never takes into account that his son may not want to be a rancher. He believes in the strength of his family and does what is right for that. Nothing else matters. This leads to Bick's life falling apart when his son wants to be a doctor and the need for cattle begins to decrease in America.
Bick never took into account that, as he got older, the world would change.
Leslie can be full of herself, but is quick to adapt. When she arrives in Texas, she is put off by waking up early in the morning to find her husband has been up for hours, that her breakfast has been made by Bick's overprotective sister Luz, and faints due to the hot Texan air. Luckily, the next day she gets up before everyone else, makes breakfast for Luz and wants to go horseback riding with Bick.
Her need to assert herself gets in the way many times, all to prove that she, and women in general, should be treated as equals to men. She has an outburst in front of Bick and his friends during their conversation on "men stuff" and how they're setting the world back 100,000 years. Leslie is a proud woman, married to a man who sees men and women as two different species. Which is why they're perfect for each other.
Bick gives Leslie strength, and Leslie gives Bick purpose.
There's nothing necessarily wrong with what Bick or Leslie do over the course of the film. Both of their actions speak of two different life philosophies, different end-goals and they are products of their times. Bick is very much an "old ways" kind-of-guy; Men are the strong ones who bring in the money, and women are supposed to raise the kids, cook, clean and make her husband happy. Leslie grew up around politics and social gatherings, where she was allowed to study all sorts of topics and speak her mind.
This leads to their children being mixed up people once they grow up. Even they admit it when discussing where their twins are heading in life. "We've raised an odd set of fledglings," says Leslie.
However, no matter what choices their kids make, they're willing to make the sacrifice of their legacies for the happiness of their offspring. Their pride still rears its ugly head sometimes, like during Christmas morning and Bick gets drunk on bourbon, but only because they have been hurt by their sacrifice.
"We can raise our children, but we can't live their lives for them," says Leslie. To me, this is the line that encapsulates the struggle of Bick and Leslie, and "Giant" as a whole.
It speaks of struggles that we must all face. Personal sacrifice and the willingness to help out the ones we love. That we would do anything, even give up our dreams, if it means our children can live a better life.
Bick may not have given his children the lives that he wanted for them, but he has given them lives they wanted to see through to the end. That is what a legacy truly stands for.
"Giant" is a masterpiece. At over three and a half hours, it moves a fast pace and never feels like it is dragging. Each scene has importance and is beautifully shot, making the Texan landscape feel enormous yet empty. Every character is fully fleshed out and feels just as relatable today as they did in 1956. The way "Giant" moves feels natural, never doing something just to grab the audiences' attention, only to show the hardships, pride, love and legacy of Bick and Leslie Benedict.
Final Grade: A+
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
A while ago, I wrote an editorial on one of my biggest film pet peeves; the continued success of "filmmakers" Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich. In that editorial, I talked about why they continue to piss me off and how appealing to the lowest common denominator might work for box office success but makes for poor filmmaking success.
Looking back on it, I believe a more solid point is that Bay and Emmerich are good businessmen, but poor filmmakers. They know how to make a film look enticing to audiences. To make them want to go see their film, through clever marketing, bringing in big name stars and, of course, lots of mindless action that anyone can enjoy. To them, film is nothing more than an outlet to make money.
My problem with this is there is so much more to cinema than just a business. Filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, the Coen Brothers, David Fincher and Christopher Nolan don't keep making movies to get some money (though that does certainly help), they do it because they're passionate about movies and love to make films that they can be proud of. Films that they can look back on and realize that it is an accomplishment that they can proud of. As opposed to Bay and Emmerich, who probably look back on "Transformers: Age Of Extinction" and "The Day After Tomorrow" as a big paycheck.
Some responses to my earlier editorial have made the point that Bay and Emmerich's films are glorious eye candy that can be a pleasure to view. That people love to watch eye candy and their films personify that feeling.
I both agree and disagree with this assessment. I agree that people like to watch eye candy and that films by Emmerich and Bay encapsulate that feeling. But I disagree that this makes their films "good" or redeemable in anyway.
Film is, among other things, another form of storytelling so story, characters and substance should always take precedence over effects and style, unless the film is trying to be different like "Gravity" or "The Wind Rises." However I don’t think any film by Bay or Emmerich has tried to be different in that regard. Their films are high on adrenaline and extremely low on intelligence. There is certainly a time and place for that, but it always gets old fast and never has any staying power. The more you watch their films and you watch these racist characters and bland-colored characters fight, the more you realize just how irritating their movies can be.
A good film grows on you. The more you watch it, the more you end up loving it and appreciating. A good film is not just a waste of time or a way to keep you distracted, like many Bay and Emmerich films.
Their films may have made lots of money at the box office, but I do not care about that. It does not tell me anything about the movie, other than a lot of people went to go see it. These days, tons of people go see terrible movies, like "Transformers 2: Revenge Of The Fallen" and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" so box office success means even less.
The whole point of my editorial was to say that I can’t say I like any Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich film. Instead of making the type of film they would want to see, they make the film that’ll make the most money. Their films come across like they have no passion for filmmaking and are just in it for the money. It is disrespectful to the art of filmmaking.
Finally, I understand this opinion is contrary to the majority opinion out there. Most people enjoy Bay and Emmerich's films, which is why they gross so much at the box office. As a result, my opinion may come off as biased.
To that I say, of course it is biased. There is nothing wrong with that though. It is impossible to do something like this and not be biased. Any time you give your opinion on anything, it will be biased. Your opinion is your bias. But that doesn’t stop me from believing it, even if it is contradictory to the majority. I don’t believe Bay and Emmerich are bad filmmakers just to be contradictory. I believe they’re bad filmmakers because that is how I legitimately feel. I have never enjoyed watching their films, even when I was younger and didn't understand film that well.
I remember watching Emmerich's "Godzilla" and immediately hating it. As I left the theater, I contemplated what was wrong with it, but couldn't see anything other than the monster not being anything like Godzilla. But now I see that the characters are nothing more than stereotypes, the story is poorly paced and makes no sense, the sad attempts at humor are pitiful and the action sequences are ripped straight from other better films.
Let's face it; From a critical perspective, there are no good Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich movies. Every single one of them is tedious, repetitive, filled with far too much CG and not enough life in the actual human beings and are nothing more than dumb excuses to watch lame action sequences.
Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay are terrible filmmakers.
Monday, October 20, 2014
For as long as cinema has existed, filmmakers have done their best to scare the pants off audiences. From shocking moments of horror, to the gross instances of blood and guts, to even the disturbing points in otherwise whimsical Disney movies. These films have kept audiences screaming for years, running away from theaters in droves and yet they want more.
The horror film genre is one of the biggest branches of cinema out there, and it is not limited to just PG-13 and R-rated movies. Disney in particular has found a way to sneak in scenes of horrifying images in films like "Snow White And The Seven Dwarves" and "Pinocchio," yet they still get a G-rating.
So why is that something like horror films exist? You'd think that people don't like to be scared and that audiences would avoid that at all costs. Yet slasher and psychological horror films thrive. Why do we watch scary movies?
The first reason is how watching an intense scene can make you feel. Watching an alien burst out of John Hurt's chest gives people an adrenaline rush. People like to be excited, and these particular scenes make the audience thrilled when something unexpected happens. It keeps the imagination interested and envisioning more about what could be out there. It makes the viewer want more and feel that adrenaline once again.
But a bigger reason for why we enjoy horror films is that feeling of hope. In a well-executed film, where you are invested in the characters and root for them to get out of this perilous situation, despite the insurmountable odds they face, the movie is filling you with hope for both the characters and within yourself.
If Ripley can face a horde of aliens just to save a little girl, suddenly our struggles in life don't seem nearly as bad.
Don Blueth once said that you can put anything in front of a child and they'll enjoy it so long as it has a happy ending. This is reflected in many of his works, especially "The Secret of NIMH," "The Land Before Time" and "An American Tale." There are many horrific and disturbing imagery throughout these films, all while still being aimed towards children, yet they remain optimistic and positive about the future. It's all topped off by the happy ending, and the audience is extremely satisfied by both the ending and the film in general.
During all the terrible moments presented in horror films, we still continue to fight through it. We don't give up on it, or life, because we hope for better times. Hope that life will give us something to root for and look forward to.
Hope is a powerful tool. And what better type of film represents hope than triumph in horror films?
Finally, there is something to be appreciated with horror movies, especially for children. No matter what the scares might be, the film is challenging your perception of reality. Films like "Return To Oz" and "Freaks" are making you ask questions that you don't necessarily know the answer to. They are challenging you to reconsider what you know about your life, the unknown and the darkness. Some might even offer insight to a conundrum that you hadn't even considered.
Children want to have questions put in front of them. It is why they ask their parents so many questions to begin with. But when they watch the tale of the Headless Horseman and Ichabod Crane, they're being challenged with questions they may not understand. This can bring forth emotions and feelings they have never felt before. It shows them that the world is filled with more questions than answers and there are some aspects of life they will never understand.
And that's okay.
It's alright to be afraid, that is a normal part of life. Everyone is afraid of something, but it is how we learn to overcome those fears that makes us stronger. With a bit of hope, people can learn to conquer their worst nightmares and become a better person as a result.
To me, that is the true strength of horror films. To teach people fear is something we must deal with on a regular basis, but that it can be dealt with. If we hope to live our lives optimistically and happy, then dealing with our biggest fears is the first step. Movies like "The Wolf Man" personify those ambitions and emotions, to show us both the light and darkness.
Are horror films for everyone? No. Depending on the tolerance of the person, some scary movies might be too intense. Horror films are like a rollercoaster; There are varying degrees of intensity, but there are some people who can't even handle to simplest ones.
To those who can handle scary movies, I say keep on watching them. It's perfectly fine to be scared by these films. Being scared is exciting and lets you know a bit more about yourself. Appreciate the challenge of horror films and you'll understand why audiences have watched these films for decades.
Still the scariest thing I can think of. Stop haunting my dreams, Will Smith-Fish!
Sunday, October 19, 2014
Halloween. Ghouls, goblins, monsters and freaks.
Aside from Christmas, the last few weeks of October are my favorite time of the year. The smell of leaves is thick in the air and it is almost haunting at times. You look outside at the moon, hiding behind a thin layer of clouds, as if it has something to be scared of. Terror and scares are hiding in every little corner this time of year, waiting for the opportune moment to pounce on you like a crazed lion stalking its prey.
And I love it.
As much as we don't like to admit it, people like to be scared. It's why we go out in the dark of night on a cool October evening. Why we enjoy seeing the look of surprise on others' faces when you successfully scare them. And why we watch copious amounts of horror movies this time of year. There's just something so tempting about being terrified that we seem to seek it at times.
Speaking of those horror movies, in honor of the season, I should offer you some advice on what movies to watch over the next couple weeks. In particular, my favorite type of horror films, the monster genre.
There is something enticing, yet at the same time, disgusting, about monster movies. When we think of the term "monster," we think of a creature that doesn't belong in our world. An abomination that goes against everything we stand for and must be exterminated. But many monster movies leave the door ajar and paint a picture of the true monster being humans. In some cases, we created the monsters, and in others we are attacking and destroying someone else simply because they're different from us.
In any case, monster movies are exciting, thought-provoking, adventurous, suspenseful and are great to watch this time of year. So let's look at what I consider the ten greatest monster movies of all time. These are in no particular order, as I don't think I could bring myself to say what is the best monster movie ever. Instead, I'll try to have films of varying genres to give you a wide range to choose from.
I would describe "Jaws" as Steven Spielberg attempting to pull of Alfred Hitchcock, and succeeding.
This is a true work of suspense and tension. For years after this films release, people were terrified of swimming in open waters. Yet we hardly even see the dreaded shark for the majority of the film. For more than three-fourths of the film, the creature remains in the shadow, as we only see the aftermath of his attack, point of view shots of him about to strike and many statistics and notes about the unrelenting strength of the great white shark. All set to that eerie score by John Williams.
Like most good monster movies, it focuses more on the human element and how they're going to stop the monster, rather than overdoing it on the creature and making his presence less significant. We get plenty of scenes between Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw, as they struggle among themselves aboard the Orca and stop the beast. One of the best scenes is Quint telling stories about how he got his scars in a humorous gesture, only for the tone to switch as he explains his hatred for sharks and we get a chilling story aboard the U.S.S. Indianapolis during WWII.
All the while, the shark is lurking in the background. Always the possibility of attacking, always unsure if our characters are safe.
"The Thing" (1982)
This is the ultimate tale of paranoia and suspicion, topped of with otherworldly practical effects and haunting score by Ennio Morricone, the composer of "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly."
For those who haven't seen this one, it is a remake of "The Thing From Another World" back in 1951. While the original focused more on being funny and trying to make a poignant statement on scientific research (though the scientist in that film was an idiot), the 1982 John Carpenter remake focuses more on surviving in the arctic while in the presence of a shape-shifting alien, who is slowly taking over the camp.
"If I was an imitation, a perfect imitation, how could you tell the difference," says one of the main characters. The answer is, you can't. You have no idea if you are the last remaining human in a group of imitations until it is too late. That is true horror.
What makes this film work even better is that none of the main characters are stupid. Every action that the characters take are rational, thought-out and logical. They don't go for the guns, because it would just spread out the cells of the alien and create even more of a problem. They burn everything the creature might have touched in case they might be infected. And no one trusts anybody else.
But the scary thing about "The Thing" is that the alien is just as smart as them.
"King Kong" (1933)
If you forced me to say what I considered the greatest monster movie of all time, it would be a toss-up between "King Kong" and another film that I'll get to later.
I feel like I don't need to say much on the subject of the original "King Kong." It is a timeless tale about beauty, monstrosities both big and small, and the movie crew that filmed it. All leading up to one of the greatest climatic battles in cinematic history atop the Empire State Building.
What has stuck with me through the years with "King Kong" is just how impressive the special effects are. The way Kong moves and battles giant T-Rexs' is still stunning to watch today. And keep in mind, this was made nearly 80 years ago, and it is still amazing to watch Skull Island come to life.
One of the classics and one of the best monster movies ever made.
"The Host" (2006)
Monster movies love to promote their social commentary and make messages to the world about a variety of subjects that are hurting our world. Most of the time though, the messages are heavy-handed, overblown and forced down the audiences' throats. But in "The Host" we get an environmental message that is low-key and not forced upon us at all.
In this South Korean masterpiece, the dumping of many toxic chemicals in a nearby river has created a monstrous tadpole-like creature, which is now running amok and abducting people. One of the people taken away is a little girl, and the majority of the film is spent on her family trying to get her back, despite the government attempting to quarantine the area and keep the monster under wraps.
This one is more-or-less about how fear spreads easily, but that it is just one more hurdle that we all must face in our lives. Every character in the film has something to fear in their lives, even before they know about the monster, and don't like themselves as a result. But they're willing to let all that go to save a young innocent girl and make sure she doesn't grow up to be like them.
"Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein" (1948)
What? You didn't think these would be serious, dramatic films, did you? Nothing like a good old comedic monster movie. Especially when that film features Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man and a comedic duo at the top of their game.
This one offers just a bit of everything that you would expect it to have. Abbott and Costello's usual verbal back-and-forth, Dracula being sneaky and manipulative, the Wolf Man watching out for the full moon and back to Bud and Lou for some slap-stick with Frankenstein.
It is a blast to watch from start-to-finish. If it's not entertaining you with comedy, then the monsters and the atmosphere do that job just fine. This one is a combination of the best of both worlds.
"The Fly" (1986)
This film scares the living crap out of me. It scared me when I was eight and saw this man slowly transform into something unhuman and monstrous, and it still scares me today. I cannot watch the final scenes without wincing in terror. Yet I cannot look away.
Another remake from a 1950s film of the same name, where a scientist creatures a matter transporter and ends up testing it on himself, only to find out later that a fly also got caught in there and his DNA has been mixed with the fly and is slowly turning into a half human-half fly creature.
What sets the 1986 remake apart from the original is David Cronenberg's creative touch. And by creative, I mean disturbing. We watch as Jeff Goldblum slowly loses his humanity, both mentally and physically. It's not so much that he begins to think like a fly, but that he gets so caught up in his own ego and the realization that all his work and progress will be lost forever. Like Goldblum says at one point, "I feel like I've been a fly, dreaming about being a human. And now the dream is over. And the fly has woken up."
"The Fly" is tragic, disturbing, gross and I love it. It's the tale of a man whose ambition and ego got in the way of scientific progress and has now lost his humanity.
The perfect phrase to describe "Alien" is haunted house in space. It's why the tagline "In space, no one can hear you scream" is so applicable to this film.
This is one of the few films where I feel a tremendously slow pace is one of the biggest blessings it can have. "Alien" takes it time to show every section of this giant ship and how empty yet symmetrical it is. Long uncut shots of the ship, as we pan across, wondering just who is in charge and if the alien has already struck.
It is easy to see why Ash considers the alien the perfect life form and the ultimate killing machine. It's slick, sharp body, the acid blood, a second set of jaws and can hide just about anyway. Yet we will still never completely understand it, because it is alien. It is the unknown and the unexpected that terrifies us. This makes "Alien" a one-of-a-kind horror film.
"Bride Of Frankenstein" (1935)
I mentioned that, aside from "King Kong," there was one other film I would consider for the title of greatest monster movie ever. "Bride Of Frankenstein" is that other movie.
Previously, I've discussed monsters from space, the ocean depths and creatures made by toxic chemicals and scientific mishaps. Now we get to discuss the true monster: humans. While there is a monster in "Bride Of Frankenstein" we see that he wants nothing more than to be treated equally and have a chance to live as much as anybody else. He doesn't want to hurt others, but we fear him because he is different.
Yet here is Doctors Frankenstein and Pretorius, the mad scientist that created the monster simply to see if he could and the one who wants to recreate it due to his own ego and arrogance. They resort to kidnapping, acting like gods and choosing who lives and dies and performing experiments that create people tiny enough to be put in glass jars.
So I ask you, in this case, who is the true monster?
By the end Doctor Frankenstein does learn the error of his ways and realizes just what he is doing by creating life by resurrecting the dead, but Pretorius is still set on creating a mate for the monster. That their "collaboration" is greater than any other act performed by man and that he will change the world.
Much like "The Fly," this one can be hard to watch, but I can't look away.
Though the concept of the Freak-Show is a bit of a cliché these days, it is only because film poorly captures it, opting to use actors and lots of make-up to make them look like freaks.
What if filmmakers actually used strange-looking people, like a real bearded woman or conjoined twins, or a man who has no arms and legs? Controversial? Certainly. But fascinating? Absolutely.
That is exactly what Tod Browning, director of the 1931 "Dracula" did. He sought out these people, treated them as equals and created a film that is unmatched in that category. Set in a Freak-Show with all the usual attractions, it follows one of the dwarves in the show falling in love with a normal girl who just wants to use him to gain publicity and intends to kill him when she is done with him.
Like "Bride Of Frankenstein" the true monster here is the average human. The so-called "freaks" merely want to be accepted and this show is the one place they can all do that. Most of them are content with living their lives like this, among friends. It isn't until they're treating unfairly by this woman and her boyfriend that they fight back. And boy, do they fight back.
This is the oldest film on this film, and as result, is the most terrifying. To think that this film was released in 1932 and was able to accomplish all that it did is amazing. While it was hated at the time of its release, it now gets the respect and admiration that it truly deserves.
Don't act like you didn't see this coming.
Considering the legacy of Godzilla, being around for over sixty years, thirty films during that time and being labeled "The King Of The Monsters" it would be a crime to not put at least one Godzilla film on this list.
So I went with the one that is the most human in the series. The one that sticks with you long after you've watched it and realize just what this film means to Japan. Not only is about the horrors of the nuclear bomb, but it shares the desired hopes and dreams of the Japanese people following WWII; hope, prosperity and the will to survive.
Some people probably think I'm talking about "Godzilla, King Of The Monsters" with Raymond Burr. While that it still a good movie, that is merely the Americanization of the original Japanese film, simply titled "Godzilla." These are two very different films. The American one cut ten minutes from the Japanese version and added twenty minutes of their own footage, mostly to add in Burr's character to transcribe Godzilla's destruction of Tokyo, at the cost of cutting out many of the atomic bomb undertones and struggles of the Japanese people.
Most people have probably seen "Godzilla, King Of The Monsters" but I know that very few people who read this have seen the 1954 "Godzilla" as it was meant to be seen. That version is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray in the United States, and has now become a part of the Criterion Collection.
Of all the Godzilla films to watch, this is the one I would recommend to start with. It is not so much about a monster destroying Japan as much as it is about a rebuilding society trying to stop a monster from destroying them. It is not just a great monster movie, but a great film altogether.
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
"Gone Girl" (2014)
It has been a long time since I have watched a movie that has taken me on an emotional ride like "Gone Girl." This movie is able to balance so many despicable characters who do terrible things to the people they "love" only for them to be redeemed in the eyes of the audience and have a new person to hate.
Like with other mysteries such as "Prisoners," it can be difficult to keep up the level of intrigue and excitement in the audience, especially when trailers can give away some of the movies biggest plot twists and tell the audience essentially what will happen. But "Gone Girl" takes a different route than most others with its point of view storytelling.
Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) is celebrating his fifth wedding anniversary with his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), by spending the morning at the bar he and his twin sister own. When he comes home, expecting their annual wedding scavenger hunt to begin, he finds their home is wrecked and Amy is missing. Nick immediately calls the police, who discover traces of blood all over the house and begin to fear that something terrible might have happened to Amy.
I dare not say anymore on the plot, because that would give away the many twists and turns "Gone Girl" has to offer.
What I can say is that I found myself root for and against every single character at least once over the course of the film. At times, Nick is sympathetic for having his wife taken from him like that, but other times we learn just how terrible of a husband he was and you want to slap him.
But at no point was I tired of watching these people and their struggles. If anything, showing both the good and bad sides makes these characters all the more interesting and relatable. It is only natural to hide secrets and hold back those bad thoughts and moments that we all have. And "Gone Girl" is all about those secrets.
I can honestly say that I was never bored with "Gone Girl." Every scene had a reason to exist and added to the tense and gripping atmosphere. The actors did a wonderful job at making these multi-faced characters worth watching, even Tyler Perry who plays the lawyer defending Nick and has a retainer worth $100,000.
David Fincher adds his usual charm to the film, making the unnerving atmosphere even more creepy and unsuspecting. It makes the film more unpredictable, which is great for a mystery.
I can't say much more about "Gone Girl" without spoiling it for you, so go out and see this one for yourself. You will not be disappointed.
Final Grade: A
"The Judge" (2014)
I despise courtroom dramas.
Most of the time, they are simply two people talking back and forth over a crime that we most likely did not see, spouting legal jargon that I do not understand nor care about. Very rarely is there a courtroom drama that breaks free of this, but when it does it is films like "To Kill A Mockingbird" and "12 Angry Men" which break away from the tedious nature of the courtroom.
"The Judge" is a fine example of why the courtroom drama is boring and repetitive. Though the film has a stunning all-star cast, with Robert Duvall, Billy Bob Thorton, Melissa Leo and others, they cannot save a doomed script, riddled with clichés and unnecessary plot elements.
Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) is one of the best defense attorneys in Chicago and seems to keep his Tony Stark-like ego of being the best at everything. That all changes when his mother passes away and must attend her funeral in Carlinsville, Indiana, a place he had hoped he'd never return to, mostly because of his father, Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall). He tries to consul his family, while avoiding his father, and get out of there as fast as possible. But things change when the police find a dead body in the road and traces of his blood on the hood of Joseph's car.
Though that is a rough explanation of the plot, there is so much more going on, including a subplot about Melissa Leo's character, a former love interest of Hank, and the brothers of Hank who have their own problems to deal with. All the while, we're never told why Hank and Joseph hate each other so much, until the last ten minutes of the film.
Another problem with "The Judge" is its pacing. So many scenes drag on for longer than they need to be, all to give us clichéd dialogue and characters that have no reason to exist. The film takes its sweet time to get into the courtroom, as it would rather spend time in bars and looking at old film.
"The Judge" is two and a half hours long. In a story that could have easily been told in an hour and a half. The conflict between the leads is so forced and non-descriptive that it becomes infuriating to watch Duvall and Downey Jr. butt heads for all these unexplained reasons.
Overall, "The Judge" is cliché, poorly paced, unoriginal and far too long for its own good. While the cast does well with what they have to work with, they can't bring this film back. It's like trying to plug up the holes in an already sunken ship; it does not do you any good.
Final Grade: D-
Monday, October 13, 2014
"Seinfeld" is often regarded as one of the most revolutionary and creative television comedies of all time. Many comedies these days, especially shows like "Modern Family" and "The Big Bang Theory," owe much of their success to the formula that began in Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David's brain child.
One of "Seinfeld"'s biggest claims to fame, and what set it apart from all other television shows at the time, was that it was a show about nothing. Where nothing is accomplished, nobody changes or learns anything and audiences would eat up how close it came to reality. Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer were always the same people in every episode and, try as they might, they could never be anything more than what they were in the first episode.
But now that we've had some time to reflect and re watch many key episodes, can we still say that "Seinfeld" was a show about nothing?
For that, we need to look at a summary of a basic "Seinfeld" episode. Most begin with a piece of Jerry's stand-up routine, which sometimes is a bit of hint as to the events of the episode, followed by one of our bumbling lead characters complaining about something they don't like, such as the owner of the newest soup restaurant. Then a subplot is introduced with another character, typically about an opportunity that has opened up, like Elaine getting romantically involved with JFK Jr. As the episode progresses, these two plots will cross in some way and ultimately lead to disaster for all of our main characters.
So the question becomes, is that "nothing"?
While it could be argued that nothing was accomplished, as our lead characters have not changed and these events will go unmentioned after the episode ends, something was at least accomplished.
"Nothing" implies that there is no substance. That the episode never wanted to say anything and went nowhere. I don't know about you, but from that plot description, it sounds like the show is about something. That may vary from episode to episode, but it certainly is not nothing.
Take, such as, the episode "The Bubble Boy," where Jerry, Elaine, George and his girlfriend, travel upstate to a log cabin and relax for the weekend. Along the way, they decide to visit a fan of Jerry, a boy confined to a plastic bubble, but due to George's need to make good time while traveling, Jerry and Elaine lose him while they travel in a different car and have to stop at a diner for instructions, getting caught up in a fan obsessed with getting Jerry's autograph. George, in the meantime, gets to the Bubble Boy, who is rude and unpleasant to everyone. Things heat up when they decide to play Trivial Pursuit and the two argue over the spelling on one of the answers, to the point where the Bubble Boy has to be rushed to the hospital and an angry mob forms to attack George for what he did.
To me, that's not nothing. That is an instance of many little things adding up to the point where they become a big problem. On their own, these little things might be insignificant and meaningless, but when you put them in the hands of the right crazy people, they turn in monster problems. It can turn something like driving too fast to make great time into a weekend from hell and getting chased by an angry mob.
Because of this, I find that it is more accurate to say "Seinfeld" is not a show about nothing, but a show about the little things. How those little things are often taken for granted and when they stop being little things.
If you truly want a show about nothing, watch the first season of "Louie." In that series, random and unconnected events will happen however they please, with nothing really being accomplished by the end of the episode. There is no internal continuity, and Louis C.K. even said that if one episode messes up the continuity or message of another, that he doesn't care.
Maybe back in the 1990s, we felt that "Seinfeld" was a show about nothing. But now that we have shows like "Louie" to compare it to, we can see that at least something happens in a regular episode of "Seinfeld." Kramer might burn down a cabin, or George becomes a hand model only to get his fingers badly burned by an iron.
It should also be pointed out that what happens in most episodes of "Seinfeld" has some relation to Jerry's stand-up routine at the beginning and end of each episode. So, another interpretation could be that "Seinfeld" is about how a stand-up comedian gets his material. That Jerry hangs out with people like George and Kramer because it gives him even more of a reason to go up on stage and make people laugh. All the hijinks and adventures he gets into makes for wonderful stand-up material.
In the end, there are many ways to interpret "Seinfeld" and what it is about. But to say the show is about nothing seems a bit out of date. That notion has given way to the show being about the little things, or how a stand-up comedian gets his material.
Friday, October 10, 2014
Man, I've watched a lot of movies recently.
To be more accurate, I've watched a few films over the last few months and have not written reviews on most of them. In particular, films on DVD, television and Netflix. I've continued to write reviews to all movies that I see in theaters, but anything else lately has taken a backseat.
So let's fix that with a new section of the blog, Mini-Reviews. I'd like to continue to talk about the movies that I watch, even if it is for a moment. These reviews will be about a paragraph in length and I'll do my best to condense my general feelings into that small space.
We'll begin by taking a look at...
"The H-Man" (1958)
Some people might write this film off as a "The Blob" rip-off, made by the same filmmakers as the Godzilla movies, but then you realize that "The H-Man" was actually released before "The Blob." Ishiro Honda, especially during his early days, had a tendency to combine other film genres with a monster subplot, like with "Rodan" and "The Mysterians." In the case of "The H-Man," it is a gangster movie with monsters that reduce other living creatures to piles of goo running around. As with most Ishiro Honda films, the effects are damn impressive, especially with how they're able to make the monsters move across walls and pipes. It's too bad the story and characters are so forgettable.
Final Grade: B-
"The Picture Of Dorian Gray" (1945)
This film is all over the place. Based off the novel by Oscar Wilde, the film follows a young Dorian Gray, who is extremely youthful for his age and wishes that he could stay that way forever, especially after meeting a wealthy socialite who includes in all sorts of seedy activities. After he gets his portrait taken, Dorian just might get his wish as the painting seems to be magical. This one is basically an updated version of Faust, a man who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for eternal youth, except that it finds a way to make the protagonist an even bigger jerk. Dorian takes the socialites words to heart and basically removes his morality along with his soul, leading him to all sorts of diabolical acts over a long time.
Final Grade: C
Life sucks and it will only get worse as you try to help other miserable people. That is apparently the philosophy of "Heat" and its main characters, a famous LA police detective (played by Al Pacino) who has marital problems and a suicidal step-daughter, and a long-time criminal (played by Robert De Niro) who has problems connecting with everybody. Most of the film is spent watching these two work off of each other, as De Niro tries to commit one last grand heist and Pacino tries to stop him. The best scenes of the film are when they face-to-face with one another, especially their first meeting in a restaurant and they discuss their own problems and that they will stop at nothing to meet their goals. It is silent but menacing, showing off the incredible range of acting between Pacino and De Niro. Still, the problem is that the film is far too long for its own good and gets way too caught up with the uninteresting side characters that it gets lost along the way. Though it does lead to a unique final showdown on an airport runway.
Final Grade: B
"Judgment At Nuremberg" (1961)
I walked away with a lot of new thoughts from this film, but the one that resonates with me still is that the Nazis, as evil and terrible as they could have been, were still people. They weren't monsters and they did what they had to for a reason. "Judgment At Nuremberg" is the trail of several former Nazis for their crimes during the regime, but this makes it clear that these men aren't the ones on trail, but all of Germany. We hear testimonies on both sides, and all of them are quite convincing, with the American side bringing up the lives of those effected by the Nazis have panned out, but the German side showing how what they did isn't so different from what the Americans have done. relocating thousands of people based solely on their nationality, medical experiments on the mentally challenged and dropping atomic bombs on innocent people. So in that regard, who is truly more evil? The Germans or the Americans? "Judgment At Nuremberg" is wonderful at taking something like judging Nazis and making it not as clear-cut as one would like to think.
Final Grade: A
"Captains Courageous" (1937)
If this film came out today, it would be critically panned and forgotten within a week. But in 1937, this was something unheard of, and had such an amazing cast that it would be impossible to ignore. Directed by Victor Fleming, who also gave us "Gone With The Wind" and "The Wizard Of Oz," as well as starring Spencer Tracy, Lionel Barrymore and a young Mickey Rooney, this film follows Harvey Cheyne, a spoiled brat of a kid who has every handed to him by his rich father, falls off a cruise ship and is picked up a fisherman and told that they can't take Harvey back to land for three months, so they teach him how to fish and become a man. This type of story has been told time and again and will be told many more times. But the performances and personalities of the fisherman can be fun to watch, especially when competing against other fishing boats. I'd recommend watching this film with subtitles though, as almost all the main characters are difficult to understand with their thick varying accents and the constant sound of waves pounding against the boat.
Final Grade: C+
"Little Caesar" (1931)
There's something about very old gangster films that I admire. Perhaps it is because they were made at a time in Hollywood where there were no restrictions or rules to filmmaking and they could show gruesome violence at its most beautiful. Maybe because the time of the gangster was still in effect while these films were being made, with Prohibition only recently ending as well as the Great Depression. Or it could be because the things we make fun of in gangster films these days are on full display here: Constant backstabbing, fast-talking high-pitched weasels who want to make it big, and as many "Ya' see?!" as you can imagine. If anything, gangster films like "Little Caesar" are a product of their times, but are certainly not for everyone. I respect "Little Caesar" more than I enjoyed it.
Final Grade: C
"Robot & Frank" (2012)
This film, more than most other science fiction films, gets right at the point of whether or not robots can have souls. That living creatures are a collection of thoughts and experiences that they're encountered over their lifetime, and that who we are comes from those experiences. So if a robot learns to not get bullied and can becoming an old man's friend, how is that robot any different from a person? Set in the not-too-distant future, where libraries are no longer needed and robots to help out those who need it are starting to come about, Frank Weld (Frank Langella), a former cat burglar with memory problems, is having a hard time adjusting to this new technological world, especially after his son gets him a robot companion. The robot (who is never named) wants to get Frank into gardening, but Frank has another hobby in mind: Getting back into cat burglary. This is everything a good sci-fi movie should be. It's relevant to the times, still has a sense of heart and wonder about the world, yet can be both funny, dramatic and touching. At times, it does not even feel like a science fiction film, but just a story about an old man who is out to try to have one last adventure in a world that has long since passed him.
Final Grade: A-
What I'll aim to do is continue to view movies on television, DVD and Netflix as I have been recently, and then every month or so I'll do another group of mini-reviews on the movies that I watched. If you like that idea, or completely disagree with it and would like to see full write-ups on these kinds of movies from now on, let me know in the comments below.