Thursday, April 30, 2015

Mini-Review - "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (1955)


It is interesting to watch Alfred Hitchcock's films out-of-order and find out just how much films like "The Man Who Knew Too Much" pales in comparison to some of his other work, especially "North By Northwest."

That is not to say "The Man Who Knew Too Much" is a bad film, just that everything this James Stewart-Doris Day thriller attempted to do - Average man caught up in a murder scandal, attempting to out run the police, while trying to stop a crime that might soon be committed - was done so much better in Hitchcock's other films.

Part of the reason for this is that "North By Northwest" had extravagant set pieces and outlandish sequences that heightened the suspense of every scene, building up to a climax atop one of the nation's most recognizable landmark. "The Man Who Knew Too Much" has two noticeable locations - the Moroccan desert and a theater. The other reason is that many of Hitchcock's films had a great sense of humor, where the characters could chime in with a funny quip right on the spot, mostly due to the comedic background of actors like Cary Grant. James Stewart, as great of an actor as he is, does not have the best comedic timing, leaving many of his jokes in this film a bit flat.

Not to mention, the first half hour of "The Man Who Knew Too Much" features mostly sight-seeing and James Stewart trying to get accustom to the Moroccan lifestyle. It isn't until the movie is a fourth of the way in that something interesting finally happens. However, once it gets to that point, it does a great job at building up suspense and Stewart and Day give some heartfelt performances.

Overall, "The Man Who Knew Too Much" feels like a dress rehearsal for "North By Northwest." Exotic locales, a story that takes our protagonist all over Europe and Africa, and a Hitchcock pace and atmosphere that we've all come to know and love. It is certainly worth checking out, if only to watch James Stewart and Alfred Hitchcock collaborate.

Final Grade: B-

Monday, April 27, 2015

Movie Review - "Ex Machina" (2015) - Cogs In The Machine


The cunning and imagination of the science fiction genre is often a double-edged sword - Sometimes filmmakers can make their future and ideas of the evolution of mankind seem plausible and exciting, like in the "Star Trek" films and "her." Other times though, the film gets lost in its own philosophical discussions of what man can and cannot do that the story and relate ablility of these characters suffers.

This is one of the biggest reasons I do not care for Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner" - The film would rather talk about why man creates or how machines deserve the right to live their lives just like humans until it drives the audience away with tedium.

Let me make it clear though that I love the science fiction genre. That is one type of film where cinema can often be at its most creative and visually appealing. Watching films like "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" will remind you of that. But I am not afraid to point out its shortcomings either. That when a science fiction film is bad, it is often painful to watch.

While "Ex Machina" is certainly not a bad film, I do get a similar feeling to "Blade Runner" from this new sci-fi thriller. The visuals are often stunning and it has some thought-provoking ideas of machines and artificial intelligence, but the film gets so lost in its ideas that the story has no place to go and wanders around for most of the run time.

Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) is a coding expert for the largest search-engine company, Bluebook, and has just won a prize to visit Bluebook's creator on his massive estate. Once he meets Nathan (Oscar Issac), it becomes clear that Caleb is getting more out of this trip than just hanging out with his boss. Nathan has spent much of his time and money on developing "the greatest scientific discovery in the history of mankind" - an android with artificial intelligence.

Nathan reveals that Caleb is here to perform the Turing Test on his latest creation, Ava (Alicia Vikander), to find out if her intelligence is so good that it could be mistaken for human intelligence (the test is named after Alan Turing, the main character from "The Imitation Game"). It does not help that Ava has the face of a beautiful girl and a synthetic body to a woman, and makes advances on Caleb.


What does work in "Ex Machina" is the unsettling atmosphere of paranoia and loneliness. Nathan's estate is gigantic, as pointed by the helicopter pilot pointing out that they had flown over his property for the past two hours and were not close to his isolated and somewhat tiny dwelling. They have what feels like the majority of Alaska to themselves, with glaciers and snow-capped mountains everywhere, yet no one is around for hundreds, if not thousands, of miles.

Yet, the entire time, there is this air that every character is being experimented on, whether they know it or not.

This is also related to my biggest complaint with "Ex Machina." Because there are only three characters with speaking roles, and this unrelenting atmosphere must be in place, these characters are all over the map. It is impossible to know exactly where each character lies and what their true intentions are, especially when each keeps backstabbing the other two.


The worst culprit is Nathan, who keeps getting new character traits added. At first, he is this friendly yet eccentric multi-billionaire genius. Then, he gets development in the weirdest way - Suddenly he's a nerd as he makes references to "Ghostbusters" and "Star Trek," he likes to work out a lot, he is a drunk, and loves to party and dance. All the while, we're supposed to believe that he invented artificial intelligence.

The film tries to give him so many identities that it ends up giving him no identity at all. It is just too much.

By the end of "Ex Machina," I was left confused and uncaring about the preceding. So much of every character's true intentions were left in the dark that the characters were simply unrelatable. Instead of fleshing out these characters further, the film decides to engage in philosophical discussions on why we would create androids or if a chess-playing robot knows what chess is.


Although the question of why make a synthetic android look like a sexy woman is pretty amusing - Why not make it like that?

Overall, "Ex Machina" has a look that is unmatched in the sci-fi genre and has an atmosphere that grabs you by the throat and never lets go. But any reason to care about these characters is traded in for discussions on intelligence and art, and story greatly suffers because of that. If you like "Blade Runner," this is right up your alley. There is a lot of style and analysis, but not much substance.

Final Grade: C+

Friday, April 24, 2015

Is Film Original Anymore?


When you think of movies today, what comes to mind? There are lots of different answers to this question, but some of them will include remakes, reboots, adaptations, sequels and superheroes.

There is an unintentional thread connecting all five of those together - They are unoriginal.

Remakes, reboots and sequels are merely taking existing film ideas that worked well in the past, and doing it again for a new audience, like the Star Trek films or the Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise. Adaptations, like The Hunger Games movies, take an existing source material in another medium and translate it into cinema. Superheroes, such as anything in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, are adaptations of comic books that have proven successful with a wide audience.

A common complaint I've often heard with Hollywood is that is not 'original' anymore. That any successful film that comes out today is a copy of something else or is taken from another source material, thus Hollywood didn't have to put in much thought.

To say Hollywood is not original anymore depends on your definition of "original." Some people will say there are still plenty of films being made that tell new and fascinating stories, while others will say that film was never original in the first place.


While film does have many forms, we'll look at as it is most commonly referred to - visual storytelling. The point of almost any film is to tell a narrative through images, rather than words, stills or live performances. But stories existed long before cinema was ever considered. Film can be interpreted as adapting these many stories into a medium that is possibly more understandable than any other form.

One of the first films to have a narrative, "A Trip To The Moon," was an adaptation of a book.

According to a novel by Christopher Booker, there are only seven different types of plots that a story can have, including "Overcoming The Monster" ("Dracula" or "Beowulf"), "Rags To Riches" ("Cinderella"), "The Quest" ("Iliad"), "Voyage And Return" ("Odyssey"), "Comedy" ("A Midsummer Night's Dream"), "Tragedy" ("Macbeth") and "Rebirth" ("Sleeping Beauty"). Every story in existence can fall into one of these seven categories, and is merely a variation of these original plots.

For example, "Star Wars" falls into the "Overcoming The Monster" group, as it chronicles Luke attempting to fight and destroy the Empire. "The Lord Of The Rings" goes with "The Quest" as Frodo and the Fellowship attempt to travel across Middle Earth.


The point that I'm attempting to make here is that, from a certain point of view, cinema has never been original. From the beginning of film to the stories we often praise for being original, they have taken their ideas and story from other narratives. These are merely new spins and variations on old stories that have been told a million times.

That being said, film is taking new spins and variations on old stories so that we fall in love with these narratives all over again.

Yes, film is often unoriginal. Anyone can see that by looking at how many sequels in the "Fast & Furious" franchise, or how many attempts there have been to revive Alvin & The Chimpmunks or Scooby-Doo. But then again, the word "original" is often overrated.


"Birdman," for example, is not an original idea. The story of a movie star trying to make a comeback and regain his/her stardom has been told many times, in films like "Sunset Boulevard" or "The Artist." But that did not stop the film from being so captivating and imaginative with the performances, dialogue and cinematography.

When my passion for cinema began, I was initially interested in films that I felt were specifically original, which back in 2008 was films like "Rashomon" and "No Country For Old Men." But now that I've had time to analyze and reevaluate my feelings on those films, I've come to understand that even they were not original for their time. The stories of multiple perspectives on the same murder and a western about a ruthless bounty hunter tracking down a man carrying more money than he knows what to do with have been told before "Rashomon" and "No Country For Old Men," and they'll be told many times again in the future.

What I didn't realize back in 2008 was that it was not the originality that stuck out to me in those films, but the creativity and imagination. The ability to take something that's been done many times, yet still able to give the film its own unique identity. To make the audience forget that we may have heard this story before, and instead give us something we may have never seen.

Film may not be original anymore, but it is certainly unique. If that makes any sense.


"The Lego Movie" is a story we've all heard before - A corporation wants to control every aspect of our lives and achieve greatest power, and it is up to a bunch of rag-tag rebels to bring it down. But I have still never seen a film like "The Lego Movie," due to world building, child-like imagination and the animation style. What other film can make you care and relate to a yellow brick?

"Guardians Of The Galaxy" was the same - except that we rooted for a gun-totting raccoon and his best friend, a tree that could only say "I am Groot." If that does not make film unique, I don't know what does.

Overall, I stopped caring about whether cinema is "original" a long time ago. Maybe there have not been any original films in a while, but the great thing about cinema is that the creators will continue to find new and imaginative ways to entertain us. So long as filmmakers continue to be creative and passionate about their craft, there will always been something worth checking out in theaters.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Mini-Review - "The Nightmare Before Christmas" (1993)

Mini Movie Reviews

I've decided to change-up the formula for the Mini-Reviews once again. Rather than releasing eight or nine mini-reviews all at once, recapping the last few movies I have watched on DVD, television, Netflix, etc., I will now be posting a new blog entry every time I finish a mini-review. Meaning that each review will now get its own blog post, and I'll be updating the blog a bit more often than I have recently.

I'm doing this because, as it has been pointed out, some readers who are interested in my thoughts on one film no longer have to read seven other reviews to get there. Plus, each review will now get its own time to shine.

With that said, let's start by taking a look at...


"The Nightmare Before Christmas" (1993)

A little known fact about this film - Though Tim Burton seems to take full credit for "The Nightmare Before Christmas," Burton did not direct it. That honor goes to Henry Selick, who would go on to direct "James And The Giant Peach" and "Coraline," another fantasy stop motion classic.

And yes, I would use the word "classic" to describe "The Nightmare Before Christmas." A classic movie, in my opinion, is a unique, one-of-a-kind piece of film that continues to entertain audiences long after its time in theaters. There is nothing else like it, and you can show it to your grandchildren as their faces light up like yours did.

The world of "The Nightmare Before Christmas" is reason enough to watch the film, as each major holiday has their own town, where it is perpetually that holiday, including Thanksgiving, Valentine's Day, Easter, and of course, Halloween and Christmas. The citizens of these towns reflect their holiday, as the state of mind and goals of the creepy creatures of Halloween town see everything as a scare, and unpleasant and creepy is good. Anything that doesn't belong to their way of life is strange and unacceptable to these ghouls and witches.

I just wanted to visit every one of those worlds and see how their land differs from ours. I'm sure some people would have fun in St. Patrick's Day Land, while others could get lost in Valentine's Day Land. Wonder if they'd consider a Baseball Opening Day Land (yes, people were talking about making that a national holiday).

The animation in "The Nightmare Before Christmas" is befitting of a Rankin/Bass claymation Christmas special, like "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer" and "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," while still having the creepy factor of any Tim Burton production.

Ultimately, that is what "The Nightmare Before Christmas" feels like - Tim Burton's take on the classic Christmas tales, adding an odd and foreign flavor to something that we already loved, in this case everyone's favorite holiday. The animation makes this film timeless, as we watch the backgrounds twist and turn to the characters demands and bring Halloween Town to life.

Final Grade: B+

Monday, April 20, 2015

Mini-Reviews #7

Mini Movie Reviews


"The China Syndrome" (1979)

For once, I was completely wrong about a film. Based off of the name and the basic premise I heard about this film, I expected it to be about a radiation outbreak that began at a news studio and the reporter who spread the disease. What I got was much better, with multiple stories and points of view.

Much like "Wall Street," someone could easily get lost by all the talk of radiation containment and news studio speak. Unlike "Wall Street" however, this is not the only type of dialogue throughout the film, as the head of the nuclear plant emotions run high and we can sense the dread and horror through their expressions and tone. While the reporters and cameramen are anxious to get their story of a near reactor meltdown out to the public, but their superiors won't let them due to legal ramifications.

The driving point behind "The China Syndrome," aside from the constant sense of conspiracy, is where does one draw the line. The reporter, Kimberly (Jane Fonda) and her cameraman, Richard (Michael Douglas), video tape the control room during the near meltdown when they weren't allowed to. The nuclear plant attempts to keep the incident under wraps, but Kimberly wants to take this story on air so that the public can know. Due to the journalistic code, they can't air the footage because it was unauthorized and they have no leads willing to come forward. Yet this is something that the public needs to know about - their lives were in danger and the nuclear plant could threaten everyone in a 500-mile radius again. So, do you follow the journalistic rules and not show the story that could endanger millions of lives, or compromise your principles and run the story anyway?

"The China Syndrome" is a tense and gripping piece about making difficult decisions that could threat the public, while also offering some great performances by Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon and Michael Douglas. I think the story around Lemmon's character uncovering the truth behind the near meltdown is the stronger piece, but both certainly have a lot to offer.

Final Grade: B


"Viva Zapata!" (1952)

This tale of the Mexican Revolution in the early 1900s started out well enough. We follow one of the leaders of the rebellion (Marlon Brando), who wants nothing more than for his people to be free to live their lives in the land they've called home for centuries, only for all that to get lost in a bid for power and control over the land.

Made all the more interesting with intense performances by Brando and Anthony Quinn, the film moves at a brisk pace and does not get bogged down in the politics of the revolution. That is until Zapata climbs the ranks the new leadership and it becomes a power bid to become the leader of the new Mexico. Zapata does not want any of that, and runs away, where the film slows to a crawl and loses interest fast.

"Viva Zapata!" has a great opening, where we see the revolution first hand and watch it from humble yet passionate beginnings, to a point where the new leaders have fallen into the same trap as the old ones. But once that point is firmly established, it circles that many times and gets tedious and boring.

Final Grade: C+


"Die Hard 2" (1990)

The tagline for this film was "Die Harder." That should tell you everything that you need to know about the film - It is attempting to outdo the first "Die Hard" in every way. But since the first film is still considered an action (and Christmas) classic, and very few people talk about "Die Hard 2," you can see how that worked out.

The problem is that "Die Hard" did its best to make the act of terrorists taking over a large industrial building in downtown Los Angeles with only one rogue cop to stop them seem as believable and logical as possible. Now that same cop is fighting military level leaders with superior fire power and intelligence on top of the wings of jumbo jets.

Cool? Sure. Memorable and captivating? Not really.

"Die Hard 2" knows that it is a cheesy action film, while the first film played it straight from start to finish. It has some neat action sequences near the end of the film, when everything comes to a head, but it is overly long and takes itself way too seriously.

Final Grade: C+


"Run All Night" (2015)

Much like "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," Liam Nesson's new "Run All Night" (or as I like to call it, "Taken 4") offers nothing of substance and nearly put me to sleep. It is the same action fodder that you expect from Liam Nesson these days - Playing the gruff loner whose family and friends have abandoned him, yet somehow has extensive knowledge and experience with fire arms and hand-to-hand combat, as he tracks down people who have wronged him.

This worked in "Taken" because it was a simple premise with realistic yet satisfying action sequences, which suited Nesson's aging action star persona. But now that he has done at least five of these types of films, the formula is running thin and so is the audiences' patience with Nesson in this gun-crazy anti-hero.

If you like the "Taken" series, then "Run All Night" is more of the same. If you're tired of Liam Nesson playing these types of roles, like I am, then this film will not change your mind and gives the audience nothing new.

Final Grade: D+


"Chef" (2014)

Thanks to the internet and social media, the world has become much more entertaining, but also more infuriating and difficult. It use to be that hard-working people could hold down a solid job for most of their lives and not have to worry about much else. But now, thanks to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, people's voices are now everywhere for all to see, and those voices can hurt. One bad critic can ruin someone's job and life, without them realizing it.

This is one of the driving forces behind Jon Favreau's "Chef" about a successful cook, though unhappy with his life outside of work, and puts everything on the line when he accidentally calls out a food critic on Twitter and he cannot handle the backlash. Carl Casper (played by Favreau) is an old-fashion man who is dedicated to providing the world with something it has never tasted before, and gets lost in every other aspect in his life. Carl doesn't have anything social media related, and has to realize that the world is constantly changing. That the phrase "everybody is a critic" works more today than it ever has in history.

The worst part is that these critics have cameras that can send videos to everyone on the internet.

If I had one complaint with "Chef" it would be that Favreau has his hands in too many aspects for the story to be taken too seriously. Favreau is not only the main character, but he also wrote the screenplay and directs. He has complete control over how "perfect" Carl's life is, and it really shows when he makes this pudgy cooking-obsessed individual end up having sex with both Sofia Vegara and Scarlett Johansson. That goes a bit overboard.

Overall, "Chef" is a light-hearted tale of coming to terms with your place in the world and finding out what truly matters to you. Some great performances from Favreau, Vegara, John Leguizamo and Emjay Anthony as Carl's son, with some cameos by Dustin Hoffman and Robert Downey Jr. Throw in some cinematography that will make you hungry for a good Cuban sandwich, and this is one film that will leave your mouth-watering.

Final Grade: B+


"The Secret Of Kells" (2009)

It is hard to get a solid understanding on this animated fantasy. The film is meant to take place in medieval times, yet the landscape seems to imply that the walled-off town of Kells is one of the last bastions of humanity and has many illuminators from across the globe. The film also blurs the line between reality and fantasy, as we follow Brendan and his journey to understand the book that can "turn darkness into light" while his uncle, a former illuminator, only wishes to protect the innocent lives inside the walls.

"The Secret Of Kells" wants to be many things, and excels at certain aspects while being lackluster at others. The need for hope and light is a necessity in a world where barbarians with no remorse can take life away so easily, so Brendan's adventure to finish this book, while also overcoming his overbearing uncle, is a joy to watch. However, the fantasy elements often felt forced, though whimsical and gave the film a certain charm.

Not to mention, the animation style is one of a kind. "The Secret Of Kells" goes for a children's story book feel to it, with lots of detail in the backgrounds and illustrations of our lead characters. By comparison, the animation on people is rather blocky yet fluid, thus making the backgrounds pop out more.

Overall, "The Secret Of Kells" is a fun ride as we watch a tragic time through the eyes of fantasy and children. It can be forced at times, but the animation and point of view of our main character balances that out.

Final Grade: B-


"Rushmore" (1998)

I think I finally understand what makes Bill Murray so appealing. Though his wit and dry humor are a big reason, there is something about Murray that sets him apart from others, and I know what it is - Bill Murray models his career after Bugs Bunny as he realizes that he is not a cartoon. A man who loves to have fun with others misfortune, while learning about his own limitations and that he is not immune to those same misfortunes.

Take for example Wes Anderson's "Rushmore," as it chronicles the tale of a teenage boy yearning to be treated like an adult, only for him to usually over-do everything to the point of obsession. Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) tends to make friends with little kids and adults, is the president or member of nearly every club in school, creates his own plays, wants to build a school aquarium, and is failing all of his classes and has no friends his own age. When Max sets his eyes on something, he grabs onto it for dear life and will never let go.

Bill Murray plays a business owner who hates himself, yet loves the passion and conviction in Max, and they end up becoming friends. Murray sneaks around children's playgrounds, smacking basketballs out of kids arms as they go for a lay up and will ride around his factory on a metal pipe like a witch's broom if he feels like it. Yet Murray can't stand being around his family and is a heavy drinker.

Together Schwartzman and Murray work off each other beautifully, as both are awkward and stubborn, and each wants something different out of their relationship. Their scenes together end up being the best parts of "Rushmore," even though Schwartzman's charisma carries over in to every scene.

Final Grade: A-


"The Ghost And Mrs. Muir" (1947)

Have you ever read (or more likely seen) those romantic novels about a woman moving into an old rundown house, only to find out that it is haunted by a dreamy bad boy ghost and the two end up falling in love? All of those novels come from this movie and its source material, "The Ghost And Mrs. Muir."

It is not hard to see why this subject is enticing to some (not me though, I like my romances to be between people who are actually real and have flesh) - The ghost romance takes elements of fantasy, horror and love, throws it all into a blender and hits the highest setting. It is why stories like the "Twilight" books did so well upon their release, with massive appeal to the target demographic (in this case young women) and giving them something that they can never have but love to fantasize about.

In this regard, "The Ghost And Mrs. Muir" is a very by the numbers fantasy romance, with the traditional "will they or won't they" storyline, while the woman attempts to make a life for herself and the ghost becomes infatuated with her. The only saving grace in the film comes from the performances of Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison, with Tierney being optimistic and positive about the changes in her life, and Harrison losing himself in his sailor lifestyle. Their scenes together, while lacking in chemistry, are fun to watch as their egos bounce off one another.

Final Grade: C+


"Crank" (2006)

Much like Jason Statham's character in this film, if you stop to think about the plot, you'll die..or in this case, miss out on all the insanity. Which is the main reason to watch "Crank."

The plot of "Crank" is a forgettable revenge thriller, but what makes the film stand out is Jason Statham's high-octane performance and the visual style that makes the film look like it has a headache along side Statham's character. At times, it is a visual assault with the many tilted angles and unique uses of lighting, but it surprisingly works for "Crank" with the high use of adrenaline.

Throughout the majority of the film, Jason Statham is essentially playing his own personal Grand Theft Auto, as he steals cars and motorcycles, kills who ever he wants, breaks into a hospital to steal some drugs to keep him alive and even a fight while flying from a helicopter.

I would say that "Crank" reaches "Barbarella" levels of insanity, but nothing can top the machine that pleasures you to death. Still, having a police chase through a shopping mall is pretty close.

It is hard to describe the high amounts of crazy in "Crank" without giving everything away. This is just one of those films that you have to see for yourself to understand how fun and off the wall it can be.

Final Grade: B

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Movie Review - "Unfriended" (2015) - The Internet Fights Back


One of the often unnoticed aspects of horror is that the roles of our "heroes" are typically played by unknown or new actors. People that the audience has never heard of before, and thus have no stigma or personality attached to the actor's name.

How would you feel if the role of Norman Bates in "Psycho" was played by Gregory Peck or Robert Mitchum, instead of Anthony Perkins? Both Peck and Mitchum are spectacularly captivating actors, but we probably wouldn't be able to get roles like Atticus Finch out of our mind to believe what Norman Bates does.

Horror is often at its best when the audience is just as much in the dark as the lead characters are. When the actors are people that we don't know, they stop being actors and become ordinary people stuck in a horrific incident that may cost them their lives - lives that we are now invested in.

This is one of the strengths of "Unfriended," one of the most unusual horror movies in a long time. While I recently praised "It Follows" for the creative setup and use of its monster, "Unfriended" takes the creativity up a notch by not only having the entire film shot from the perspective of a teenage girl's computer screen, but also the ever-present monster and the mystery behind its powers.

When Blaire sits down for a skype call with her friends one night, the group ends up getting a mysterious caller that won't leave the chat and finds a way back in every time they retry the call. Soon after, new photos and conversations surface from Laura Barns Facebook page, who killed herself one year ago after a video of her getting drunk and passing out went viral. As the conversation progresses, Blaire's friends begin to think that the mystery caller might be Laura who has come back to get her revenge.


The strangeous yet most alluring part of "Unfriended" is how the film is able make each of these characters sympathetic and relatable, yet so satisfying when something terrible happens to each of them. For the majority of the film, we are lead to believe that everyone in the group did nothing to hurt Laura and that it was the internet's fault. But all too soon, the truth, cover ups and fake Facebook accounts show themselves and we learn exactly what of each of them did that made this unknown presence so angry.

There are points where I wanted to hug each of these characters and tell them it'll be alright, and then others where I wanted to slap them. I understand where they're coming from, but they deserve what happens to them.

As for the monster itself, it is hard to pin down exactly what it is. There is never a physical manifestation of it, due to the way "Unfriended" is filmed, but the creäture is able to hack any computer and take over dead people's accounts. It is never explained if this cyber threat is Laura or some force pretending to be her, but one point is made clear - Whatever it is, this monster knows each of the main characters darkest secret and intends to expose them to the internet.


While people praise the internet for the ability to communicate with the world like never before, we don't often consider the repercussions of sharing everything we say or do with the world-wide web. If we mess up in the real world, it can be forgotten and move on from it. But on the internet, that video, tweet or Facebook post will last forever. Everyone you know and care about will see it and no matter how hard you try, that is now apart of your life open to ridicule and scorn from across the information superhighway.

So what if the internet knew about the evil things that some people had done, leading to the death of someone, and wanted to get even with these teenagers who didn't think they were doing anything wrong? Just another possibility to the monster behind "Unfriended" that makes it all the more terrifying.


Overall, "Unfriended" is a welcomed horror film that feels reflective of today's social media-based society and takes full advantage of the set-up and framing device. The mystery of how the electronic creäture works keeps the film from getting stale and the characters supply a never-ending emotional roller coaster. It does drag at a couple of points, but the film more than makes up for it with all the style behind the use of computers as exposition and scares.

Final Grade: B+

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

What Is A Movie?

This may seem like the most simple of questions - What constitutes a movie? When does a collection of images and frames suddenly become more? Or does it just need to be more than one shot put to celluloid?

I ask this question, because there have been videos recently that have disputed the idea of what a movie is, particularly my short review of "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog." This 44-minute musical directed by Joss Whedon and starring Neil Patrick Harris, has garnered critical success and cult following, especially from fans of Whedon's work on both the small screen ("Buffy The Vampire Slayer") and the big screen ("The Avengers").

But does it count as a film?

To understand, we must go to the basics of cinema and realize exactly what film was in the beginning - moving pictures. What separates a movie from a photographic still is that a movie is a combination of stills, about 24 stills per second in fact, which gives the film the illusion of movement, much like a flip book.

The first recorded instance of a moving picture was accomplished by the Lumiere Brothers in 1895, as they filmed a shoe factory's work day ending and the hundreds of employees leaving the building, as well as another instance where they filmed a train coming right for the camera. It has been said that when many people viewed this for the first time, they jumped out of their seats because they were afraid the train would jump off the screen and hit them.

As the years went on, cinema evolved as filmmakers got more crafty and intelligent. In 1902, "A Trip To The Moon" used sets, tinted lenses and background actors to show that the cast had traveled to a far off land that was once thought impossible. In 1903, "The Great Train Robbery" was one of the first films to use editing to show multiple sets of action to heighten drama and suspense, as well as one of the first to tell a flowing narrative through celluloid.

Artistic movements would occur, like the German Expressionist era, which would give us many of our basic horror films like "Nosferatu" and "The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari," and lead to the many films of Alfred Hitchcock and the Universal horror films. Later on, technology was developed to give us both sound and color, launching us into an era where films could be as close to life as possible.

This has been brought up to raise a question - With all the technological advancements and filming techniques since the creation of cinema, would you now consider those moving pictures by the Lumiere Brothers a movie by today's standards?

As film has evolved, so has our perception of what a movie is. When it started, anything that moved was cinema. Then D.W. Griffith gave us the three-hour long snoozefest "The Birth Of A Nation," which made us realize that film can tell an overarching narrative that has many sides and perspectives, even giving us a glimpse of history. It changed again when "The Jazz Singer" was released and we could finally hear the characters talk and sing.

Fast forward to the present day, where we can watch movies and television shows on our phones and computers, download movies without needing to buy a ticket or get a physical copy of it, shows and movies are constantly being produced by online companies like Netflix, and fundraisers to help filmmakers create their work are just a click away.

Times have changed, and so has the definition of cinema.

The American Film Institute has very basic requirements as to what constitutes a movie - It must be produced for the screen, and has to be at least 60 minutes long. If it was created for television or a website, it does not count.

I agree with this ideal, as internet content and TV are two different mediums from cinema. When you think of a film, the first image that comes to mind is probably that gigantic screen with an auditorium full of seats and a projector in the back.

Videos made for the internet, while undeniably entertaining, addictive and enthralling, are often made by one guy/girl who just so happened to have their camera on at the right time. While television is episodic and often has time restraints due to programming and scheduling.

It makes sense that a movie must be made for the big screen to separate it from other forms of entertainment.

However, I do not agree with AFI on the other need of being at least 60 minutes in length. If we went by that strict definition, then wonderful pieces of film like "Duck Soup" and "Detour" would not be considered movies. Much of Charlie Chaplin's early work would be unqualified, as well as many other silent films.

If we are to commit to a definition of a movie, then it must be something that works for the history of cinema, not just the films of today. All of the works of film art that I've mentioned have altered the way we perceive the moving picture, in both big and small ways, even if they are now unseen ways.
"Battleship Potemkin" was the first film to use montage, but the common movie-goer does not know that. They just see a montage and accept it as a part of film. Without that iconic use of editing and framing, we would not have the haunting ending to "The Godfather" or the classic shower sequence in "Psycho."

It would be a shame to say that any piece of film under 60 minutes does not qualify as a film, when there are so many exemplary pieces of cinema.

So, to ask again, what constitutes a movie? I believe that the American Film Institute is on the right track by saying it must be produced for the screen, but the length of the picture is irrelevant. Films like "A Trip To The Moon" and "The Great Train Robbery" proved that all you need is seven minutes to entrance your audience and tell a story of traveling to other planets or bandits attempting to outrun the authorities.

The allure of cinema isn't about how long you're sitting in a movie theater, but that you've been transported from your normal life and feel like you are apart of a new journey to another land. It is about finding those characters and people that you connect with, or you don't connect with but are fascinated by nonetheless. It is about seeing life through the lens of a camera, being directed by countless people and their attempts to struggle and understand humanity.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Movie Review - "It Follows" (2015) - You Can't Outrun Death


In an age where the classic horror icons and slashers have become nothing more than parodies and satires of their former selves, it is difficult for new pieces of horror and monsters to stand out. Many of the more recent horror films have taken a different route by having a faceless monster, lurking in the shadows and going unnamed, with varying degrees of success.

"It Follows" takes a bit from both columns, giving the film a unique experience in this age of jump scares and computer generated blood. At times, it feels akin to John Carpenter's "The Thing," with a monster that has no true form and can literally be anything it wants, as long as it can get closer to you. This creature is intelligent, unrelenting and could be right behind you without even a second thought about it.

Jay (Maika Monroe) goes about her normal life - going to school, hanging out with her family and friends and going on dates. After one of those fateful dates though, it turns out that her boyfriend has passed a curse on to her - A shapeshifting monster will continually stalk her and stop at nothing until it kills her. She attempts to make a run for it, as the monster can only walk, but she eventually has to stop, giving the creature more than enough time to catch up.


A few more notes about this curse - It is exchanged to different hosts through sex, and was given to Jay when she made love to her boyfriend. Jay can get rid of it, but only by having sex with someone else. If the creature successfully kills the person it is after, it will hunt down the last person to have the curse.

We don't know how this all began and why intercourse causes it to switch hosts, but that makes it all the more terrifying. We fear what we don't understand. When it comes to supernatural beings, somethings are best left unexplained. There is enough information on this monster to fear it, and too much more could make us sympathize with it.


But the scariest aspect of this monster is that it walks towards you, never stopping for anything except to kill you. It does not need to go any faster. Even if you run away, it will catch up eventually. Just like death itself, this monster is an inevitability.

The characters are about as normal as you get - People going about their daily lives, having fun with friends, but willing to help out others in a time of need. Nothing too extravagant comes from them, but that is fine for this film since the primary focus is on the monster and stopping it. There is one character, Jay's neighbor (played by EgoRaptor...I mean Daniel Zovatto), who sticks out when Jay is attacked and, without as much as a question, says that he will help out in any way he can and drives them to Jay's boyfriend to find out more information. He is a stand-out dude and a nice change of pace in the horror genre.

2015 Sundance Film Festival Portraits - Day 2


What really helps punctuate the tense moments is the score. During scenes where Jay is merely scanning the area for the monster, the music is often loud, boisterous and atmospheric. But in scenes where the characters are laying back and relaxing, only for the audience to see a person walking up behind Jay, the music is silent and let's our screams and gasps be the soundtrack. The music knows when to help add atmosphere to the scene, and when to just let the scene be itself without any help.

Overall, "It Follows" is a gripping and often terrifying horror film. It takes some of the newer aspects of horror and combines it with the style of films like "Alien" and "Halloween" to give itself a unique feel. The monster is basic and is immediately scary for that same reason. This is not a bloody mess movie, not is it gore porn, but a smart yet simple movie about people attempting to outrun something they're not sure is there.

Final Grade: A-