Friday, July 31, 2015

Mini-Revew - "The Exorcist" (1973)


Why do you think people find "The Exorcist" so scary? Why do people keep coming back to this horror film, year after year, to return and find out they're still terrified by it? Shouldn't most of the creepy factor fade after the first or second viewing? What is so special about "The Exorcist"?

Well, I think I have an answer. Part of it is because the film plays it with the utmost seriousness and sincerity. "The Exorcist" takes the concept of a little girl being possessed by the devil and never once plays it up for laughs, never shying away from how graphic and disturbing the devil can be. This is the ruler of the underworld that we're talking about. He is sneaky, under-handed, fiendish and will do just about anything to mess with people. We see the intensive therapy, the logical reactions to what is happening to this girl and the world trying to rationalize what might be happening, only to come up with no definitive answer. All we know is that what is happening is not of this world.

Another part is the unknown. Like most great horror films, what we don't see is often the most terrifying aspect of a horror film. Is this the devil we're dealing with? It's possible, but not necessarily true. What we do know is that Regan (Linda Blair) is not alone in her body and mind, and that her body is being torn apart by these hellish creatures. Is the exorcism actually working, or is the devil letting them only think it is working? Has the devil orchestrated this from the beginning? We may never know.

The final part of what makes "The Exorcist" one of the greatest horror films is Linda's mother, Chris (Ellen Burstyn). It isn't enough that the devil possesses a little girl, but that we witness her mother watch her pride and joy fall to pieces. Her daughter is being torn apart by some spawn of evil, and there is nothing she can do about it. Yet, like a good mother, she attempts every treatment, every psychologist, every person or source that might help save her daughter. Her emotional outbursts drive home how heartbreaking and tragic something like this could be and make it feel all the more real.

This isn't just a possession, but a life being taken away by some force we'll never hope to understand.

Final Grade: A-

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Movie Review - "Mr. Holmes" - Gandalf, Magneto or Sherlock?


Imagine that Sherlock Holmes was not only real, but that he quit being a detective. Why would he do that? Sherlock Holmes is one of the craftiest, egotistical and ingenious characters of all times, who above all else wants to solve crime.

But what if Sherlock realized that solving crime has repercussions? In most adaptations, Sherlock is a man driven by logic and devoid of empathy for other human beings. He thinks more like a computer, setting his emotions aside because they can't make solving the crime any easier.

"Mr. Holmes" takes that side of the most famous private detective of all time, and shows how it would reflect in an aging Sherlock Holmes. That over the years, he has come to realize that without human connection and understanding, he has grown to be a man with many regrets in life. While he has solved countless crimes, what he should have done is save the people effected by these crimes.


Ian McKellen plays Sherlock Holmes, who hasn't been in the detective business for thirty years, yet cannot remember his last case, the one that caused him to go into self-imposed exile. He now spends his time at a house on the English coast, collecting royal jelly from bees and writing the tale of his final mystery. Holmes had read Dr. Watson's book about this case, as well as a movie adaptation of it, and found both lacking in finality. He intends to right this wrong and prove to the world that Sherlock Holmes is human after all.

McKellen does a wonderful job at playing both a young and decrepit Holmes, and gives us a look at the character that is rarely seen, one of him being at his most vulnerable. We watch as all the years of chasing criminals and clashing with mortal enemies has amounted to memories he cannot recall, and more people hurt by his actions than anything else. All because he never knew when to keep his mouth shut.

Overall, "Mr. Holmes" is a tragedy about Sherlock looking back on his life, and realizing that he was a terrible human being. That he sacrificed his humanity to be one of the most intellectual creatures of his time. And in the end, he would take it all back if he could.

Final Grade: B+

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Mini-Review - "The Red Shoes" (1948)


This one might get added to the list of films I hate, but everyone else loves.

I have made it no secret that I'm not a fan of musicals at all, as most of the subtleties and nuances of music go over my head. I admit my lack of the basic understanding of music is the problem, but a film should still rely on visual storytelling and stand on its own merits even without the music.

While there are parts of "The Red Shoes" that are impressive, such as the 15-minute sequence that comes in the middle of the film where Vicky Page (Moria Shearer) enacts the entirety of the Red Shoes ballet, there are so few scenes that left an impact on me that it is hard to remember exactly what happened.

We are told about a plot about the start of the ballet falling in love with the composer, as the director of the play being completely against it, but I don't buy for a second that the ballerina and the composer are in love. As I said, we are simply told about it, never shown it. The cast and crew talk about how great it is that love has blossomed, but we never see any chemistry between the two until after the romance has supposed started. After that, it is only kissing and making googly eyes at one another.

The only character actions that seem logical are the emotional reactions from the director, Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook), as he watches the greatest dancer he's ever witnessed and his miraculous composer fall in love and his jealousy consumes him. He is a man who only sees the beauty of art in life, and sees anything else and childish and a waste of talent and time. This does lead to a memorable ending where Vicky must make the ultimate decision as to which world she wants to live in - a world of love, or a world of ballet.

Though it does beg the question - Is it too much to ask for both?

"The Red Shoes" has moments of ingenuity and passion for the art of ballet, but it is surrounded by scenes of unimportance and banal that it makes the experience feel forgettable. Like other films that tackle art forms, such as "Almost Famous," there is clearly a love for that almighty art, but the movie never bothers to keep the audience in the loop. The only people who would utterly get this piece are those understand ballet and theatre inside and out.

Final Grade: C-

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Movie Review - "Ant Man" (2015) - Size Is Irrelevant


I think it is now safe to say there is a set pattern to most Marvel movies. Now that we have over a dozen entires into the Marvel cinematic universe, plot points and themes are shared throughout most of these films.

For example, in many of the solo hero entries, like "Iron Man," "The Incredible Hulk" and "Captain America: The Winter Solider," our titular hero ends up fighting a foe who has nearly identical powers to his own in a city landscape where destruction is at the greatest potential. The heroes are often cocky, full of themselves but can back it up, especially Tony Stark, Thor and Star Lord from "Guardians Of The Galaxy."

This is bound to happen when you have a series that has more than ten entires, but this does tend to get a bit dull after a while. When every main character is similar and ultimately lead to a final confrontation with someone like our heroes, you kind of want something a bit more after so many films.

Well, in a way, that is what we got with "Ant Man." I am hesitant to say so, because we still get a protagonist that leans more on the comedic and improve side, much like Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Pratt, but there is enough of differences in this film to give "Ant Man" its own unique flare and presentation. The film doesn't necessarily break the mold, but it does what it can with the mold it was given.

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), an expert thief and hacker, has been in prison for some time now, and has missed his daughter growing up. Lang promises to quit cat burglary and get a real job so that he can spend time with his family, but finds it difficult for a former inmate to keep a job. When his friends call upon Lang for a heist that is "air tight," he accepts, only to find there is one item to be stolen - a strange suit and helmet. What Scott doesn't know is that the suit will transport him to a new world he never thought possible - the world of the insects.

Now Scott must take part in a new heist, orchestrated by the creator of the suit, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). Pym wants to make sure the power to shrink down to bug size isn't given to the military by Lex Luthor...I mean Obediah Stane... I mean Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), and Pym is willing to break into his own company, with the help of his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), and stop power from falling into the wrong hands.


Let's get this out of the way, the plot is almost identical to "Iron Man" - A man reaches his lowest point, uses his ingenuity and cunning to create (or find) power he never thought possible, wishes to use said power to help the world (most of the second act is the hero testing the limits of his power), but the big bad corporation wants to use the same power for evil military purposes, leading to the final confrontation of similar powers duking it out.

To be fair though, "Ant Man" had to go through four different writers after Marvel's original pick to write and direct, Edgar Wright (director of "Hot Fuzz" and "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World"), left the project due to creative differences with the company. So they attempted to make a new hero in a proven formula, which most would say is the best written Marvel movie. Still, the plot is not the most imaginative and is one of the weaker points of the film, especially since it has many of the same character traits between Scott and Tony Stark, as well as the villain.

What does shine through in "Ant Man" is in its simplicity. Unlike most other Marvel films, this one doesn't try to overly impress us with flashy effects or grand battles that take up whole city blocks. If anything, the effects are not that impressive and every battle is confined to microscopic sizes. This film is more about pulling a heist than anything else, outside of the over arching theme of the film - rekindling family love.

Marvel's Ant-Man - Poster: Scott Lang aka Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) ©2015 Marvel Studios
The best part of "Ant Man" is the father-daughter relationship between Hank Pym and Hope, and really shows off how great Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly are of actors. Hope resents her father for most of the film, because he has shunned the outside world after being the Ant Man for so many years in secrecy. When the two of them begin to concoct this heist, Hope insists that she put on the suit. She knows it better than anyone and has inside connections. Hank refuses to let her become Ant Man.
For a long time, we're not told why. Because we don't need to told. Douglas' body movement and tendency to snap at the suggestion of Hope taking an active role says it all - he cares more about his daughter than he does about this mission. Hope is the only thing he has left in this world, and he regrets throwing her out of his life. Hank did the same thing to Darren Cross, who was his apprentice that he never told about Ant Man. Now Darren has taken it upon himself to prove that the Ant Man is possible and that he'll share this power with the world, by weaponizing it.

Perhaps in Hank's old age, he is gotten sentimental and wishes to pay for the mistakes he has made. But we watch all of this unfold through Scott's eyes, and we see him doing the same thing to his daughter - throwing her aside so that he can improve the world, when she should be his world.

This makes the character dynamic of Scott far more relatable than any other Marvel movie. Instead of being this larger than life persona of gods attempting to bring peace to the world, we get a guy who wants to make things right with his family. Instead of overcoming his own ego, Scott has to deal with the mistakes of his past.

The comedy of "Ant Man" is hit-and-miss. Sometimes we get a good joke, like when Scott learns to use his powers and keeps growing while still stuck underground, or most of the scenes involving Scott's best friend, Luis (Michael Pena). Luis seems to have this permanent smirk on his face, and takes everything in stride that it is impossible to hate him. He's like if Groot could speak English and drove a van.

Other times though, the comedy falls flat. Most of the scenes involving Darren Cross' testing his shrinking formula on co-workers and goats are strange and off-putting that leaves me wondering if Cross thought his actions were hilarious or tragic. At times, the comedy felt rushed so the story could advance, but again that might have to do with having so many writers.


But the funniest scene is the climatic battle between Scott and Darren, all of which takes place on a Thomas The Train play set. The two toss toy trains, set others on fire which we see doesn't look like much from a human's perspective, and even growing ants to giant size. While this is another case of a final battle of characters using similar powers, like "Iron Man," this battle is creative in how it uses the growing and shrinking abilities to give "Ant Man" its own unique feel.

Overall, "Ant Man" is a flawed but fun ride that feels different enough from any other Marvel movie. Instead of big battles where thousands of lives are threatened, we get a more personal story of a man redeeming himself in the eyes of his family and the heist that comes from that. The writing and effects are not Marvel's best, but the comedy and acting more than make up for it.

Final Grade: B-

Monday, July 27, 2015

Mini-Review - "The Incredible Shrinking Man" (1957)


Sometimes all you need is the tiniest of set-ups to have a great B-movie with effects that transport you to another world.

"The Incredible Shrinking Man" does not dwell on details of why or how this man, Scott Carey (Grant Williams), began to shrink from a man who hardly fit his clothes, to the size of a child, to hardly fitting in a doll house, and then to the point where a common spider is utterly massive to him. We get the basic understanding of how it happened, but it is so rushed that you almost miss it. Not that it matters, the film only uses it as an excuse to show the true highlight of the film - making us feel like we're right along-side Scott in this tiny world.

Truly great special effects do not make the impossible possible, but make us care and rejoice in the impossible. Films like "Godzilla" (1954) and "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" not only have impressive effects, but effects that make you terrified for the characters. The same can be said about "The Incredible Shrinking Man," as we watch Scott's world deteriorate from phones being too big for him, to using a pencil as a lifeboat, to a bobby pin acting as a sword. The effects never go over the top and compliment how even the tiniest of menaces in our world can become life-shattering problems when you're smaller than an ant.

My only complaint with the film was the closing monologue about how being so tiny made Scott feel one with the universe and how pretentious it was. That type of speech didn't fit with the rest of the film, so it came out of no where and didn't do the film any favors. If anything, I found that speech laughable because of all the 1950s cheese attached to it.

Overall, "The Incredible Shrinking Man" is an impressive piece of 1950s science fiction that deserves more recognition. It might not have changed much, but its use of size manipulation and sets helped to elevate this above most other B-films. With a great performance by Grant Williams, this one is certainly worth a watch.

Final Grade: B-

Friday, July 24, 2015

Mini-Review - "Mortal Kombat" (1995)


This might be the first movie I've watched that is based on a video game. I've attempted to avoid such films, like "The Super Mario Bros. Movie," "Street Fighter: The Movie" and "Max Payne" (starring Mark Wahlberg), because they attempt to turn video games that have very little character and even less plot into a feature-length production. The results have always been disastrous.

"Mortal Kombat" falls into the same group when it comes to story and character - It is a martial arts tournament with the fate of the world in the balance. The characters are little more than stereotypes, like the female military leader that bottles up her emotions, and the cocky and smug Hollywood type that is somehow good at kung fu, especially at punching four-armed demons in the private parts.

But let's face it, people don't watch "Mortal Kombat" for the story, they watch it for the action.

One of the main attractions of the Mortal Kombat video games is the ultra-violent finishers with characters getting ripped in half or burned alive, yet they decided to make "Moral Kombat" PG-13, with next to no blood for the kids to enjoy. Most of the charm of the video game is removed by doing this, making the movie a standard kung-fu film with a kick-ass soundtrack.

I'll admit, the main theme to "Mortal Kombat" gets me excited to watch two warriors duke it out to the death. Listening to the opening cords makes me want to punch a wooden board. The theme gets the job done at building up the action and making it seem all the more grand and exciting. Easily the best part of the film.

Overall, "Mortal Kombat" is devoid of any good character moments and very few action sequences that stand out, even a few hours after watching the film. Johnny Cage has a few good moments of being a dick, and the soundtrack is amazing, but that's all this film has to offer.

Final Grade: C-

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Mini-Review - "The Giant Claw" (1957)




What is wrong with your face?

I'm not sure what else I can say about this film. Just look at this thing. This is monster that everyone is supposed to be afraid of, with big dumb doofy eyes, huge flaring nostrils, a mouth that is never fully closed and a wing span that makes an Ostrich feel embarrassed. And the characters would not stop calling it a "flying battleship." This is the most laughable monster I have ever seen.

Like most B-movies, "The Giant Claw" has its charm but it is full of techno-babble right out of Star Trek, and a plot that makes little sense as it tries to understand that this giant bird came from outer space and has an energy barrier that prevents anything from getting through.

"The Giant Claw" is stupid, nonsensical and overly dramatic about a monster that looks like if Dopey from "Snow White And The Seven Dwarves" got beat up, and then turned into a monster to fight those who wronged him.

Final Grade: C

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Mini-Review - "Atragon" (1963)

Awesome ideas in this film, but mostly laughable execution.

To illustrate that point, the plot consists of an underwater empire, known as Mu and is said to be more powerful and advanced than Atlantis, has decided to invade the surface world and take back what they feel rightfully belongs to them. The Mu Empire knows that its weapons and technology are far ahead of ours, except for one piece of weaponry that has been in secret development for years - Atragon, a flying submarine with a giant drill on its front with a weapon that freezes everything to absolute zero.

Yet most of "Atragon" is spent on our cast of characters, almost all of whom would be used again in later Godzilla films like "Mothra vs. Godzilla," and the drama of their lives, like the photographer who wants take pictures of this woman he finds attractive, but she has daddy issues with the guy building Atragon. It takes at least 50 minutes for something interesting to happen in "Atragon," when the film has less than half an hour to go.

Granted, once the film gets to that point, the effects kick into overdrive as Tokyo literally falls into the ground and we get a cool (although short) battle between the Atragon and Manda, a giant sea serpent. The Atragon is a ridiculous concept that you can't help but respect the filmmakers for being able to bring such an idea to life. There is also a neat theme involving the captain of the Atragon, who is so devoted to the Japanese mentality of honor and devotion that is blinded to the fact that Japan has evolved since the end of WWII and now cares more about the world around it.

Overall, it takes a while for anything to happen in "Atragon," but when something does occur, the film pulls out all the stops. It is clear this movie was made by the same people as the Godzilla films, especially with the eccentric tone that rolls with the punches. There is a cheerful atmosphere throughout, so the film is never dull or a pain to sit through. Give this one a watch if you're bored and want something new to appreciate.

Final Grade: B-

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Paul's Favorite Films - Number 12

Two men are driving to Minneapolis in a stolen car, one is a "funny-looking kinda guy" who cannot stand more than five seconds of silence, the other is big guy that never says a word unless it involves a pancake house and will not stop smoking.

They are going to this winter infested city to kidnap the wife of the man who gave them this stolen vehicle, who has orchestrated the kidnapping. He has told these criminals that the ransom amount will be $80,000 and they will get half, when he really plans to tell his father-in-law these guys demanded one million dollars, and then he will take all but $40,000 for himself.

The problem is that this man, Jerry Lundegard (William H. Macy), cannot hold a conversation without others finding holes in his logic. One of these criminals, Carl (Steve Buschemi), points out why Jerry just can't ask his father-in-law for the necessary money, instead of going through this elaborate plan to get his wife kidnapped. Jerry says that it wouldn't work that way, without giving any other sufficient reason.


Jerry is yelled at by his own customers for being a liar, his father-in-law only sees him as a car dealer, and resorts to throwing a temper tantrum when things don't go his way. Perhaps part of the reason Jerry goes through all of this trouble is to give him some sort of control and power in the world.

But slowly, Jerry begins to realize that he has no control over anything that happens. He may have set everything in motion, but Jerry's cowardice and greed set in, leading to blood shed.

This is all shown in the first half hour of Joel and Ethan Coen's masterpiece "Fargo." That Jerry and these two criminals want to live in their world where they believe control is possible and anything is in their grasp, when they are pathetic little people with inferiority complexes, especially Jerry and Carl.

Yet these characters are not the reason "Fargo" is one of my favorite films, nor is it their constant bumbling that leads to terrible consequences. We see this happen in many Coen brothers films, where despicable people do awful things, leading to a normally depressing and off-putting film with a strange sense of humor. What sets "Fargo" apart from their other films is one simple addition - Marge Gunderson.


Played by a pregnant Frances McDormand, Marge is the police chief in charge of the crimes. Arriving at the scene of a road side execution, she is able to piece together exactly how the event transpired, what type of car and license plate Carl had, and all while her fellow officers were hiding from the cold Minnesotan winter or hadn't completed their own police work.

Marge chooses to see the best in every one, even the people she may not trust. When meeting her old high school classmate, he breaks down into tears after describing his wife dying of leukemia, and Marge comforts him while joining in a toast to better times. Everything she does is with a genuine smile and unbelievably pleasant attitude, even while chowing down at a buffet.

But the absolute best part of her character is the relationship she has with her husband, Norm (John Carrol Lynch). When Marge is introduced to us, more than a third of a way through the film, she gets a call at five in the morning to investigate the crime. Norm, without any hesitation, gets up out of bed to make Marge some eggs and toast before she leaves for work.

"You gotta eat something," says Norm.

He eats with her, kisses her goodbye, tells Marge he loves her before finishing up his breakfast. A few seconds later, Marge comes back in. Her police car needs a jump.

Later on, Norm meets Marge in her office with some Arby's for lunch. This time, Marge has brought Norm a gift - night crawlers for the fishing trip he is about the take. Norm talks about his day so far, and how he is working on his new duck painting to could be made into a stamp. All the time, Marge is extremely supportive and proud of everything Norm has worked on and knows that he will get that stamp.

This may sound small and somewhat insignificant, since this is something most married couples do. But keep in mind this is the same movie where another husband had his own wife kidnapped so that he could collect the ransom money.


In a marriage like this, it is the small gestures and supportive nature that makes love stronger. It isn't about big romantic moments or hot and steamy sex, but that there is someone out there that you love more than you love yourself. That you want to be with every step of the way, and make sure their life is the best it can be.

Marge and Norm Gunderson have the most realistic, caring and smile-inducing romance I have seen in cinema.

Without Marge, "Fargo" falls apart. I believe the emotional point of the film is to show that people like Jerry and Carl, who think that they have life figured out with their schemes and desire for control are light years behind what Marge and Norm have already figured out - simple pleasures are the greatest treasures.


Marge may not lead a glamorous lifestyle, but she knows that it is better to focus on the things you already have instead of the things you don't. She holds these values close to her heart, and fights for them every step of the way as she pieces together the crime. All while having the most pleasant and optimistic perspective.

"Heck Norm, you know we're doing pretty good," says Marge.

Overall, "Fargo" has one of the best story worlds that manages to be full of evil greedy people yet still comes out cheerful and wonderful. On top of this, the film has gorgeous cinematography of winter in Minnesota that matches the bleak and unforgiving world that Jerry and Carl live in, while also being in stark contrast to the dark red blood throughout the film. Combine this with a hauntingly beautiful score by Carter Burwell and a sense of humor that is so common with the Coen brothers films yet feels right at home with how pathetic these characters can be, and you have a modern-day classic that always brings a smile to my face.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Mini-Review - "Varan, The Unbelievable" (1958)


Don't believe the title, Varan is very believable. In fact, I've seen this story before. It was called "Godzilla." Except "Varan, The Unbelievable" is devoid of all the character, awe, suspense and respect for the world around it that "Godzilla" had.

While watching this film, moments and scenes from "Godzilla" kept playing through my head and noticing how similar the two are. The mysterious accident that leaves people dead which sets the events into action, the natives who believe it was their god that attacked these people, the ultimate reveal of the monster that leads to the destruction of the natives land, and the military designated to stop the monster from destroying Japan. This is a plot we would see in several other monster films, but in "Varan, The Unbelievable," it is rushed and forced to get to the monster sequences.

This film feels like it was made by people who were impressed by "Godzilla" but didn't understand what made it so great. Which is extremely odd and depressing, considering "Varan" was made by the same creators as "Godzilla."

"Varan, The Unbelievable" was the fourth monster film created by Ishiro Honda and crew, following "Godzilla," "Rodan" and "The Mysterians." It is also the only other black-and-white monster film that Honda would ever make, yet it often relies on stock footage from "Godzilla," especially for the scenes involving the military. There are even some shots where we see Godzilla's tail or foot, but the film wants us to believe it is Varan.

However, "Varan, The Unbelievable" does get better near the end, as the military develops new techniques to combat Varan, including the use of flares and making the monster eat explosives. Like most of these Toho monster films, the effects can be impressive, if a bit laughable on the military vehicles. I'm not entirely sure why the film was shot in black-and-white when the vast range of colors is what made "Rodan" and "The Mysterians" stand out. Nothing impressive, but I do not regret seeing the film.

Final Grade: C-

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Paul's Favorite Films - Number 13

I did not have many nightmares as a child, but the ones that I do remember were some of the most painful memories I have. They were always ones of situations that I had no control over, as I watched my life zip right passed me, and being forced to make life or death decisions. Like being trapped in a car teetering on the edge of a collapsing bridge, or realizing that your airplane's engine is on fire. Nightmares stick with you long after you've dreamed them, sometimes more than your pleasant dreams.

Now imagine an entire film that feels like a nightmare.

A film that makes you feel vulnerable, helpless, out of your element and absolutely petrified. The film would not play with your emotions, but feast on your deepest and darkest fears. You'd think a film like that would be different for everyone, but Charles Laughton's "The Night Of The Hunter" finds a way to make the audience feel as though it were a child being preyed on by a beast that will stop at nothing to sink his teeth in your throat. This is accomplished through many ways, but in particular it is the casting and some of the best black-and-white cinematography.

During the great depression in West Virginia, local farmer Ben Harper (Peter Graves) promises to never put his children on the street without food in their belly, and ends up robbing a bank for nearly $10,000. As he makes it home to his family, he quickly finds a place to hide the money and makes his children, John and Pearl, swear the two will never show the hiding place of the cash, and that John will always protect Pearl. Ben is then taken by the cops and sentenced to death, after killing two men to get the money.

But while sleeping in his jail cell, Ben lets it slip that the money is still out there, and his cell mate, Reverend Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) takes advantage of this upon his release and makes it his mission in life to hunt down the money at whatever the cost, even if that means having to deal with Ben's wife, Willa (Shelley Winters).


"The Night Of The Hunter" contains elements that you'll be seeing a lot of when we reach my top ten - A scary other-worldly villain, and breath-taking cinematography.

Let's start with what most people remember about "The Night Of The Hunter," Robert Mitchum and his performance as Harry Powell. To me, this is Mitchum's best performance, in a long career of superb roles. Mitchum was at his best when terrifying our cast of characters, and stopping at nothing to get what belongs to him, in his warped mind anyways. In this film, he stalks, berates and creeps on a desperate and poor family, to the point that the mother succumbs to his charm and silver tongue and marries the man, just so that he can get closer to the money.

The way that he pronounces "children" always sends shivers down my spine, as he takes extra care to emphasize the "chill" part. It also doesn't help that he keeps calling these children "little lambs."


The most defining physical trait of his character are the words "love" and "hate" tattooed on his knuckles, long before it was considered popular and cool by other people. In this case, Powell uses these words to tell the story of good and evil, just to get closer to the people he wishes to use. He uses his words strategically and maniacally, with his kind words being able to swoon anyone into loving his pleasant and helpful demeanor, while his hateful words are like a knife stabbing at you long after you've left this world.

He sees himself as a wolf, here to help those little lambs from themselves.

But the absolute scariest part of this character, and what makes him one of the most terrifying villains in all of cinema, is that he is a man of God, a preacher. He quotes verses from the bible, profuses his love for Jesus, and tells the tale of good and evil with his hands, just so that he can kill people and steal their money. He uses God to do horrible crimes of passion and self-interest.

When asked what religion he preaches, Powell responds with the religion that he and "The Lord" worked out betwixt them. In fact, you can hear his arrival to any scene with a rendition of "Leaning On The Ever Lasting Arm," but removing any mention of Jesus, making him all the more menacing.

Reverend Harry Powell is the perfect antagonist to these small children. He has everyone in town on his side, due to his ability to win over any religious folk, but shows no remorse or kindness, and will stop at nothing to get that money. Even when the children on the run and sleeping in a barn, Powell catches up to them in the middle of the night, where John comments on how he must never sleep or eat.


He is the monster in your nightmare that will never stop or get tired, and the only thing he thinks about is chasing you down.

To compliment the absolute terror of Harry Powell, "The Night Of The Hunter" also offers cinematography that is better than most films today, adding to the nightmarish quality to the film.

Aside from the creepy darkened houses with a virtually blank black wilderness behind them, as if they exist in a void, the gothic angles and proportions of the houses are eerie and wildly jagged, like something out of a German expressionist piece. For example, in a key scene with Mitchum and Shelley Winters, the angles of the room make a tiny house, with the vertical ends at strange angles, yet still confined and restricted. Yet Winters sleeps on a bed that is out of house and exists in a black void and almost out of reality.


During the outdoor scenes, which always take place at night, there are many source of light coming from unnatural places, as though there are multiple moons in the sky. To add to this creepy factor, there is an emphasis on small soft animals while the children are around, like rabbits, mice and frogs, and deadly predators like owls when Powell is lurking.

This gives "The Night Of The Hunter" its nightmare effect. Everything is oddly shaped and unrealistic, as if this world should not belong. Yet here is this man who uses the word of God to kill innocent people, and has the words "love" and "hate" on his hands. These children are trapped in a world where they are hunted down for something they didn't do, in a world that even Dr. Seuss never thought of.


If that isn't a nightmare, I don't know what is.

The director of "The Night Of The Hunter" was Charles Laughton, who was known for is roles in "The Hunchback Of Notre Dame" and "Mutiny On The Bounty." This is also the only film Laughton would direct, and it is a gem of black-and-white filmmaking. It uses negative space and emptiness to its advantage, while having an unrelenting atmosphere where you are unsure if even God is on your side. Add an unsettling performance from Robert Mitchum, and you have a film that makes you feel trapped in unforgiving nightmare.


Monday, July 13, 2015

Mini-Review - "The Shop Around The Corner" (1940)


I can see why this film would eventually become a great stage play - most of this takes place in two or three locations, there is a great emotional pull-line throughout the film that leads to some witty banter and has a colorful cast of characters that add to the feeling of community.

Part of what makes this film internationally famous is that it takes place in Budapest, yet everyone speaks perfect english. Even the main stars, James Stewart and Margaret Sullivan seem like they fit in America, yet no one bothers to hide behind any sort of nationality.

One of the important points I found in "The Shop Around The Corner" was the key differences between the way men and women think. There is a key scene where the employees of the shop discuss an item they have an abundance of - a cigarette box that is also a music box. The men think it is a terrible idea, since if you smoke a lot, you must listen to that song a lot, whether you want to or not. While the women believe that others will find the tune enjoyable, and it'll make smokers into music lovers, and music lovers into smokers, which is great for business.

This comes into play throughout the entire film, as we see James Stewart be practical and logical, while Margaret Sullivan is emotional, honest and true to herself. The two constantly butt heads over their different perspectives, but there is a genuine need to care for one another. They hate one another, but they make each other better people.

"The Shop Around The Corner" is an emotional little slice of life that perfectly captures the comradery between fellow employees and the family that builds between them, while also giving us a neat perspective on the differences between the sexes, which was unheard of in the 1940s.

Final Grade: B+

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Mini-Review - "Miami Connection" (1987)


I cannot wait for the Rifftrax of this one.

In case you have never heard of this gem, let me give you a brief description - The film does not actually take place in Miami but Orlando, it follows a rock band named Dragon Force, a bunch of orphaned teenagers that all know Tae Kwon Do, except they're not orphaned since at least two still have their fathers, and they play a shady club owned by another master of Tae Kwon Do. A rival band is upset they can't play at this club, always screaming that it is bullshit even after Dragon Force gives logical explanations, and they end up calling in a gang of motorcycle ninjas to take down Dragon Force once and for all. Oh, and roughly 45 percent of the movie is the band performing songs about friendship and kissing ninjas.

"Miami Connection" does not take itself seriously, and neither should you. One of the better "so bad, it is good" movies I have seen in a while. Get a couple of friends and some beers, sit back and enjoy the stupidity.

Final Grade: C+

Friday, July 10, 2015

Paul's Favorite Films - Number 14

James Stewart and John Wayne in a film directed by John Ford. Best screen combination ever.

Leading up to this little known western, "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," both Stewart and Wayne had developed an outstanding body of work in their respective genres. Stewart was the every-man in many screwball comedies like "The Philadelphia Story," or helping Frank Capra make poignant emotional pieces, as we've seen previously with "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington." Wayne, however, was Mr. Western. He was known to "react, not act," which lead him to become a leading man who felt the same in life as he did on screen - what you see is what you get.

Both were beloved and respected by nearly everyone, but for entirely different reasons. Wayne and Stewart had their share of similarities, such as their drive and dedication to cinema and their overwhelming screen presence, but besides that these two are night and day. They came from different schools of acting, they played contrasting roles and it seemed like they lived on two different planets.

After the end of World War II, James Stewart entered in a new film contract. Previously, he had been stuck in the same types of roles where he played kind but passionate men, and he wanted to change that image. This led him to make four movies with Alfred Hitchcock, a slew of westerns, and roles where he would play more stern and dominate characters, like in "The Flight Of The Phoenix."

One of these films was "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," which allowed him to work with the iconic filmmaker John Ford, who popularized the Western genre. Basically, any major Hollywood western that came out between 1939 and the late 1950s was directed by Ford, including "Stagecoach," "My Darling Clementine," "Fort Apache," "The Grapes Of Wrath," "Rio Grande" and "The Searchers," and almost all of them starred John Wayne. Ford was also known for influencing countless filmmakers, including Orson Welles, Martin Scorsese, Steven Speilberg and Akira Kursoawa.

Ford is the binding agent that holds Stewart and Wayne together, by bringing their contrasting styles and personalities together, to give us a western that is both bittersweet yet satisfying, as we watch the old west fade away and give birth to modern civilization.

Senator Ransom Stoddard (Stewart) has just arrived in the growing town of Shinbone, to attend the funeral of an old friend, Tom Doniphon (Wayne). The local paper is intrigued by this, so Stoddard reflects on his young adventure from decades ago, as a young Stoddard arrives in Shinbone by Stagecoach and is attacked by the town's biggest threat - Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin). Stoddard insists on using law and order to put Valance behind bars for his crimes, much to the laughter of Doniphon, who says the only way to deal with Valance is with a gun.


Aside from Stewart and Wayne in this film, "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" has a massive all-star cast, all of which turn in a stellar performance - Vera Miles, the previously mentioned Lee Marvin, Edmond O'Brien, Andy Devine, John Carradine and even a young Lee Van Cleef.

What stands out about "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" is how different it feels from any other John Ford western. In films like "Stagecoach" and "The Searchers," there is a distinct feeling of the outdoors and vast landscape of the west. But "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" feels enclosed and trapped. Part of this is because most these scenes take place either indoors or on a sound stage, instead of a western town built outside.

Normally, this would be a bad thing for a western, as it would make the film feel artificial and remove the feeling of braving a vast frontier. But in this film, it plays to the themes of the west dying. That there is only so much room for this old way of life to move that it is beginning to suffocate.


Ultimately, "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" is about the lawless western lifestyle against the sophisticated and orderly eastern way of living clashing, with James Stewart representing the east and John Wayne doing what he always does for the west. Stoddard is literate, educated, wishes to pass this knowledge onto everyone else, and is against violence, preferring to use justice to solve those problems. But now he lives in a world that doesn't understand justice or law and order, where whoever has the fastest gun is top dog and the local sheriff sleeps in the only jail cell.

Doniphon insists to Stoddard that Liberty Valance will kill him unless he either leaves town or learns to use a gun, but Stoddard firmly believes in law and order that he is willing to lay down is own life to protect it. The sheriff won't protect Stoddard, and Doniphon keeps his strength hidden until he absolutely has to use it.

Liberty Valance stands in the middle of this, as he represents the tyranny of the old west. Everyone in Shinbone is afraid to him, and petrified to stop him from his continued antics. The only one who could is Doniphon, but he is too focused on getting the girl of his dreams, Hallie (Vera Miles). He is building an extension to his house to give Hallie a place to live once he proposes to her. The problem is that Stoddard offers Hallie something new - education.


So does Doniphon let Liberty Valance take care of Stoddard and secure Hallie as his girl? Or make sure that Hallie leads a happier more educated life with Stoddard, sacrificing his own happiness?

I've talked about this in a previous editorial, but "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" is one of the best examples of a fascinating genre - the death of the old west. We all knew this would happen, that the days of cowboys and hired gunmen would give way to courts, towns and civilization. The heroes of the west would die as the railroad advanced, and riding off into the sunset was no longer an option.

We watch as society slowly creeps into this film, but only so slightly that it doesn't seem out-of-place. Newspapers have become a great way of getting information around the territory, town meetings are held with no alcohol being served, education and schools are popping up to people of all ages, and statehood is discussed.

It wouldn't be too long until the untamed west would be cultivated into a beautiful garden.

Yet, at the same time, the east is given enough to learn from the west. Stoddard does have to defend himself against Liberty Valance, and ends up being known as "the man who shot Liberty Valance." In fact, he ends being elected as a Senator because of that title.

This leads to one of the best lines in the film, said by the editor-and-chief of the paper to Stoddard years in the future, "This is the west, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

"The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" not only has one of the best screen pairings with Stewart and Wayne, but gives us a look at the old west that is not often observed. This feels like the west is deteriorating and we see what happens to those old cowboys. We'd like to think they hang up their spurs, but now we see their sadness and sacrifice, to make a better world.


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Movie Review - "Terminator: Genisys" (2015) - Why Is It Called "Genisys"?


I don't talk about this as often as it should be mentioned, but plot holes can ruin a movie. In most of the films I watch, there are few holes in the story or gaps in logic and train of thought that it does not deserve to be mentioned, or the holes are simply not that noticeable. But then there are films where the film does whatever it wants to do, believing that the audience will go along with it, forgetting that it destroys the story and makes no sense at all.

For example, "The Dark Knight Rises" is full of plot holes and inconsistencies, like how Talia Al Ghul was able to escape the prison at an incredibly young age, yet no one else was ever able to do it until Batman, or that no one would notice the supposedly dead Bruce Wayne running around Florence, and that Bruce Wayne happened to die the same day as Batman.

As I've mentioned in the past, the more you think about the story and logic of "The Dark Knight Rises" the more it falls apart.

Perhaps the reason I don't concern myself with plot holes is because I don't often like to think about why certain events happen unless the film wants me to notice it. That I shouldn't worry about things like food or characters going to the bathroom, because it is just a movie. But then there are films that forget their own continuity and go all over the place, bending time and space to their whim to the point that it is simply baffling.

When a film wants to be logical and sophisticated, but ends up as chaotic and stupid, that is when plot holes deserve to be mentioned.

One such film is the most recent entry in the Terminator franchise, "Terminator: Genisys" a franchise that has been slowly but surely loosing steam since creator James Cameron left after the second film, probably because the story was complete and there was nothing left to accomplish. Instead, we get this new film that misses the driving factors of faith in the face of an insurmountable future, and the strong-willed characters that we wanted to see pull through, to give us a forgettable science fiction mess that doesn't even begin to make sense.

In the year 2027, the computer program Skynet has taken over the world by wiping out most of the human race with nuclear bombs, leaving a small platoon of rebels to fight against an army of machines. Just when it looks like Skynet is about to lose, the machine uses its "last hope" to win the war, by sending a Terminator back in 1984 to kill Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), the mother of the leader of this resistance, John Connor (Jason Clarke). But the rebels send Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) to protect Sarah from the Terminator, only to find that the time he has been sent to is very different from what he expected.


First off, let's set the ground work for time travel by "Genisys" standards - This film believes in the multi-verse theory. That, when you travel back in time, you are actually being transported to an alternate universe. You no longer exist in the same time line, and thus a different world altogether.

Except that time travel has never worked like that in any of the other Terminator films. It has always been one consistent time line, where if you travel from the future to the past, and make changes, those have an affect on the future. There is no other universe theory, only that time flows like a river upstream- you make enough ripples in the past, and it might affect the flow of the current in the future.

So already, we have a huge inconsistency in how time travel has worked compared to earlier films. It also ruins the "there is no fate but what we make for ourselves" phrase that the Terminator films love to use.

That's like the Star Trek films throwing out "the needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few" line they love so much. Oh wait, that happened in "Star Trek: Insurrection."

But wait, it gets worse.


From the opening scenes, "Genisys" makes it clear that Skynet was still developing the time machine when it was used to send the Terminator back to 1984. That it only had enough power at the time to send one Terminator back and no more, and that only one object can be sent back at a time.

Yet, over the course of the film, we found out that not just one or two machines were sent into the past, but at least five robots were sent back in time, including two T-1000s and the highly experimental T-3000. So how exactly did Skynet send all these back into the past, when it only had enough time and energy to send one? Why did it need to send all of these back in time? Why not just send them all back to 1984 and overwhelm the one T-800 protecting Sarah Connor, who doesn't know how he got to the past or who sent him back (another plot hole).

But you can't send more than one thing per trip. Except when Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor travel from 1984 to 2017, together, in the same time bubble. That is baffling beyond reason. So Skynet could do the same thing all along? Why not just send an army of Terminators into the past? Why bother only sending one when it seems like one is so easily defeated? Why did John Connor only send Kyle Reese into the past, when nearly every one of his soldiers volunteered to go back? They clearly all could have gone if they crammed into the bubble.

This film keeps ignoring and disregarding its own rules on time travel and messing with the past that it hurts just thinking about all the holes.

Oh yeah, Sarah Connor and the Terminator that raised her were able to build a fully functional time machine in 1984, despite not having the proper technology, resources and less than ten years to build it, while Skynet had probably been working on it for over twenty years. I call bullshit on the highest order.


I could spend the entire day talking about all the plot holes and inconsistencies in "Terminator: Genisys," but suffice to say these do bring the film down. It is hard to get connected to these characters and care about anything that is going on, when the writing ignores logic and is all over the place.

Speaking of the characters, "Genisys" attempts to bring back the same ferocity and drive of characters like Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese, but misses on almost every note. Kyle Reese has zero development throughout the film and makes no attempt to show us why he should have been sent back to 1984, other than what John Connor told him about the past, which goes against the biggest rule of filmmaking - show, don't tell.

All we know about Kyle Reese is that he can shoot a gun well and has an awkward romance with Sarah Connor.

As for Sarah, she was the biggest disappointment in this film. In "The Terminator" and "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," Sarah Connor was fiercely independent, strong-willed and was more than just a good shot. But here, she always relies on the support of other men, and cannot seem to do anything without "Pops," her nickname for the Terminator sent back to protect her. To the point that she is immobilized when "Pops" might be dying.

One of the greatest female film characters of all time, reduced to a glorified damsel in distress, always needing a savior.

In fact, that might be the biggest reason for why I hated "Terminator: Genisys." I could look passed some of the plot holes and the many unnecessary references to earlier Terminator films, but this film forgets every reason the first two films are so loved. This film thinks that we love it for guns, robots and explosions, when in reality, it was the characters and the relationships they built. Even though these people knew about the terrible future ahead of them, they fought on to make a better world, no matter what those sacrifices were. They always had this heavy burden that they alone must carry, seeing tragedy where others saw hope.

"Genisys" exchanges those deeply concerned and motivated characters for people who are here to shoot loads of bullets into a robot that will just keep on coming back for more. I can only think of one word to describe that type of absurdity: weak.

Final Grade: D+

Friday, July 3, 2015

Mini-Reviews - "Rubber" and "All-Star Superman" (2010)


"Rubber" (2010)

Even if you've never seen this film, you probably heard of the premise and how it is utterly ridiculous - A tire comes to life, learns that it has psychic powers and becomes a serial killer.

While watching "Rubber" my reaction was the same as it was while seeing the trailer - Huh?

I don't know how else to describe it - This is a film about a killer psychic tire. How can you respond to that other than massive confusion?

To the films' credit, they do attempt to explain why it is not that baffling, with an opening narration from a police officer, as he tells the audience watching the tire come to life, that a lot of great moments in cinema happen for "no reason" like why the aliens in "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" are brown or why in "The Pianist" Adrien Brody has to live in the slums and use his talents to buy a nice house. Of course, there are reasons for why these events happen, but it does offer a different perspective, some people don't think about why they happen.

"Rubber" lives in its own little world, where it constantly reminds the audience, both the one watching the film and the other in the film watching the "film," that you're not supposed to think about why the tire is alive and how it got these powers. To look beyond that gap in logic and reason, and judge the film as piece about new life discovering its place in the universe.

I'm reminded of the ending to the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" theme song - "If you're wondering how he eats and breaths, and other science facts, then repeat to yourself 'It's just a show, I should really just relax.'"

That being said, the tire, somehow named Roger, seems intent on killing all humans.

"Rubber" is a strange piece of surreal cinema. Without breaking the fourth wall, this gives us a film within a film, where you're not exactly sure where the acting ends and where "reality" begins. It is never even explained why there is an audience in the middle of the desert watching this first, and why none of them brought food or water. But this film does a great job and showing instead of explaining, down to the convincing effects on the tire to give this inanimate object its own character.

There aren't many films that can say they've made a tire come to life and make it look realistic.

Final Grade: B-


"All-Star Superman" (2010)

This is a very simple, straight forward Superman about the misadventures of the Man of Tomorrow, as he finds out that he is slowly dying and wants to make the most of the little time he has left.

It takes advantage of the reason Clark Kent became Superman - to show people the way to lead a better existence. Superman could easily enforce his will on Earth and take it over, but he choose not to. He instead shows us kindness, forgiveness, and knowledge, never asking for anything and reminding us that we don't need super powers to become better.

Not much else to add to that. Most of the journeys and fights in this film are unconnected and to the point, including a visit from Samson and Atlas to fight the Ultra-Sphinx, Lex Luthor fighting his way through a massive prison while Superman (disguised as Clark Kent) fights Parasite, and the final battle between Superman and Lex, who has been gifted with Superman's powers for 24 hours. All of them are neat in their own right and it is nice to see a side of Superman that isn't just a guy who punches everything.

Final Grade: B-