Friday, September 30, 2016

Movie Review - "Don't Breathe" (2016)


Sometimes simplicity is the best way to scare and thrill an audience. You don't always need convoluted plans, big explosions and lots of plot twists (though that isn't always a bad thing). There are moments where putting two opposing sides in a dark and dangerous situation can give you the best results.

"Don't Breathe" lets every situation and scene speak for itself, without any scene overstaying its welcome and each one doing something fresh to its simple premise. At times, it feels like the film is pulling this off effortlessly, as we watch a group of teenagers break into the home of an elderly man who lost his sight in Iraq, with the kids knowing there is a lot of money somewhere in that house. But the man is not defenseless and uses his increased senses of hearing and smell to track the teens, forcing them to hide in this rundown shack from a pissed off army-veteran who has nothing left to lose.

What I loved the most about "Don't Breathe" was how it painted a distorted picture of both the teenagers and the blind man. Both parties have their reasons for doing these acts - The teens want to get out of Detroit and need the money to get all three of them down to California, where they can start their lives over again. They don't steal money, only valuables like watches and jewelry, and they only steal from the already wealthy. They don't want to hurt anyone, they're just sick of living their current lives and want to start over. And that isn't cheap.


This doesn't excuse breaking into people's houses and stealing from them, but you see where they're coming from.

As for the blind man, you'd think he would be the innocent party in all this. These kids broke into his house, are stealing his goods and are threatening his life. But, as the film goes on and we learn more about what this man has done, we realize this is a man who takes the law into his own hands. He doesn't believe in a proper justice system, since the girl who killed his daughter never saw the inside of prison cell, or in any sort of God - What kind of God would take away the eye-sight of a man who was only serving his country?

And then we see what this guy is doing to keep himself busy.

At that point, I knew that "Don't Breathe" was not trying to paint the teenagers as the bad guys or the blind man as the innocent victim, but showing shades of grey and ambiguity to both sides. They are not being written as protagonists and antagonists, but as imperfect people, who make selfish and sometimes terrible decisions in life. They believe they're in control of their own lives and nothing bad could go wrong, so long as they are prepared. Which is why these two groups must butt heads - so that both sides can realize the error of their ways.


Outside of that, "Don't Breathe" never gets boring. Every scene flows neatly into the next one, and always finds a way to add something new to the tension, like when the teens are trying to escape through the basement, but the blind man turns off the lights and now both sides are blind. The elder is able to feel his way through the basement, recognizing familiar structures, while the teens stumble their way through the dark.

The film does not get bogged down in pointless moments, as everything we're shown does eventually come into play. Unlike most horror films, "Don't Breathe" has very few jump scares, and the ones that do occur are used well, like one involving the blind man's dog early on. Once the dog comes into play again, you're constantly on edge, wondering if the dog will pop up again. Jump scares are used at just the right moments to keep you wondering what might be lurking around the corner.

The blind man does not have many lines throughout the film, but he doesn't need many lines. He keeps his dialogue to basic questions, like asking his intruders how many are in his house. Instead, we see him tracking down the teens, by realizing there are multiple pairs of shoes in the house, and they don't smell like his shoes.


"Don't Breathe" takes full advantage of its premise and works in some creative bits, using almost entirely visual queues to tell this story. This film is simple and yet ingenious at the same time, with how it portrays the small cast of characters who are all just trying to survive. This one is always thrilling, tense and claustrophobic, making it one of the best horror films in recent memory.

Final Grade: A

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Movie Review - "Hell or High Water" (2016)


"Hell or High Water" is a tale of two well-written stories that run parallel to one another - One about a tired generation of farmers looking out for their children so they don't have to go through the same sorrows they did, and another about an aging Texas Ranger looking for one last chance for glory before he retires. All while having a "No Country For Old Men"-esque style, tone and pacing, giving the characters plenty of time to think about the wrongs they've made to get where they are.

Brothers Toby and Tanner Howard (Chris Pine and Ben Foster, respectively) are about to lose their land to the bank, having just lost their mother and putting down a reverse mortgage to cover the medical bills. But after Toby finds out there is a large oil deposit underneath the farm, he is dedicated to paying off the mortgage by any means necessary. Toby contracts Tanner, recently released from prison, to help him rob banks of their small bills until they make enough to pay off the mortgage.

Meanwhile, Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) is close to retirement and hears about several banks being robbed, making this his last case. Marcus is able to deduce the Howard brothers actions and seems to be behind the two every step of the way.


Perhaps "Hell or High Water" feels so much like "No Country For Old Men" because of the Texas atmosphere, taking place mostly in rural country towns, where everyone is doing their best just to survive. It might be that both films are about aging police officers hunting down criminals who always seem to be on the run, someone they can never catch. But I think it has to do with the similar theme of confusion and worry for the next generation.

"No Country For Old Men" was about how the criminal mind had evolved to the point where we couldn't calculate or understand it. That criminals were no longer looking for something, but just wanted to invoke chaos and anarchy. They want to see others suffer, just because they could do it. Similarly, "Hell or High Water," is about how the banks, a system sworn to protect and safeguard the people of Texas, has been stealing everyone's money and forcing them out of them own homes. The banks have become so greedy, that they only see their clients as their next cash cow.

This is helped by the many vacant or run-down houses Marcus and his deputy come across during their travels, with rusted or broken-down cars and not a soul in sight. The deputy, who is part-Native American, gives the speech about how his ancestors land was stolen, and now the children of those thieving ancestors are getting their land stolen as well, except this time it is the bank that is stealing.

This makes Toby and Tanners crusade so fascinating. The two are only stealing money from the bank that holds the mortgage on their land - They intend to pay the bank back with their own money.

While a heist movie at its core, "Hell or High Water" is a piece filled with intriguing characters, mostly looking for their place in the world. There are no major gun-fights until near the end of the film, so if you expected a rough-and-tough shoot-em-up action piece, you'll have to look elsewhere. What you'll get instead are some well-acted scenes between Chris Pine and Ben Foster, who always have this friendly-yet-physical relationship, as well as Jeff Bridges wondering what he'll do with his life after the chase has ended.


Overall, I enjoyed "Hell or High Water" for its world building and making this rural land look like it was once a wonderful place to live, but has been destroyed due to a cancerous economy. In a way, the film is about the remnants of that old world looking to build a better world. This is a smart, beautiful and well-written piece that I wouldn't mind watch again.

Final Grade: A-

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Movie Review - "Steamboat Bill Jr." (1928)


If you love classic cinema, this question is bound to come up - Who is funnier? Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton?

This answer always varies from film buff to film buff. Chaplin was more emotional in his comedy and love to have exaggerated body movements, like a Looney Tune. Keaton, on the other hand, was far more story-driven and was known for his stone-face expression, like all these crazy shenanigans had no effect on him. Chaplin was known for his sketches and segments, while Keaton was a stunt-man, pulling off insane jumps and moves that had audiences reeling and terrified back in the 1920s.

Both certainly had their strengths over the other, and it was easy to see why the two of them were the leaders in silent comedy. While I consider myself a bigger Chaplin fan than a Keaton fan, there is something to admire about the stunts that Keaton was able to pull off, most coming either "The General" or this film, "Steamboat Bill Jr."

This is where Keaton perfected the famous cyclone sequence, where an entire town is destroyed by a storm and Keaton is stuck right in the middle of it. His bed is blown throughout the collapsing city, while he is later forced to move against the hurricane-force winds, while a large truck comes barreling the other direction. But perhaps the most notorious part is when the side of large stone building is about to fall right on top of Keaton, only for him to be standing exactly where the window is.


As with every other Buster Keaton film at this time, there was no trick photography with this segment. That was a real building falling down on top of the real Buster Keaton. No wires if anything went wrong, no editing to make sure Keaton wasn't in danger, and no stuntman.

This scene has been parodied so many times that it has almost lost all meaning, but this is something to be truly admired. To pull off large-scale stunts like this, creating a miniature town only to have it be torn apart by a gigantic windstorm, in 1928 when nothing to that scale had been done before, says a lot when people are still parodying it. Almost 80 years later, and we're still impressed by Keaton's skill as a comedian and a stunt-maker.

However, outside of the cyclone sequence, "Steamboat Bill Jr.," does not have much else going on for it. There are a few other cute comedic sequences, like Keaton trying on a bunch of different hats and his strict father turning down every hat his son liked, but that's about it. Nothing too impressive about the rest of the film, but it is worth it for the final cyclone scene.

Final Grade: B

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Movie Review - "Robin and the 7 Hoods" (1964)


Every fiber of my being is telling me I should despise this movie. That it is confusing, convoluted, non-sensical and poorly paced. And yet, I loved every second of "Robin and the Seven Hoods." This one was just as big of a surprise as "Mister Roberts" was.

The film is set in 1920s Chicago, right in the middle of the Prohibition Era, when crime boss "Big" Jim Stevens (Edward G. Robinson) is gunned down at his own birthday party. He is replaced by the crooked Guy Gisborne (Peter Falk), who is willing to give every gang in the city protection from the police, but at the cost of half of their daily earnings. Gisborne is soon approached by Robbo (Frank Sinatra), who won't be apart of Gisborne's gang and sets out to make a name for himself in Chicago.

After a run-in with Big Jim's daughter, Marian (Barbara Rush), Robbo earns a large sum of money he doesn't want, and it is given to an orphanage. One of the caretakers for the orphanage (Bing Crosby) is delighted by all this and starts spreading the good word about Robbo, the modern-day Robin Hood.

The reason I say "Robin and the Seven Hoods" is confusing and convoluted is because it wants to be many genres at the same time - Gangster, comedy, musical, courtroom drama, as well as a modern retelling of Robin Hood. At times, it even feels like "Seven Samurai," where the gang of misfits help the villagers for no intended reward. And yet, I love the film because it is so tongue-in-cheek about everything, while still pulling off the 1920s-gangster feel and some beautifully choreographed musical numbers.


Normally, I'd say a film should stick to one or two genres, but "Robin and the Seven Hoods" tries to be four or five genres at once, all for laughs. Naming the love interest Marian and Robbo's best friend "Little" John (Dean Martin) is one thing, but turning their casino into a church within a couple of minutes to hide from the cops is so ridiculous that it is hilarious.

Everything about this film is cranked up to eleven and I can't help but appreciate it. Peter Falk as the eccentric gangster was pitch-perfect casting, from the voice and mannerisms to the need to feel important and constantly failing at it. The courtroom trail is short and sweet, especially when they give the verdict and shows that this town is smarter than it looks. But my favorite comedic bit is the last twenty minutes of the film, when Marian continually goes on the same type of date with different men, including Robbo, Little John, Gisborne and the deputy sheriff, in a bid for power and continually being shot down.

There was just something that really got to me about Marian's plans falling apart, only for her turn around and come up with another power struggle idea one second later. All her plans are the same, which might be why they're so great to see falling apart at the seams.

Overall, "Robin and the Seven Hoods" was a genuine surprise. At times, it feels like an authentic gangster film, but then it breaks into a musical number the next moment, all while telling the story of Robin Hood. I respect this movie and its filmmakers for having such a care-free attitude throughout the film and being able to pull off so many genres at once.

Final Grade: A-

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Movie Review - "Black Sabbath" (1963)


My first adventure into the world of Italian horror. Or at least, an Americanization of Italian horror.

I got a taste of this genre with "Crimson Peak" last Halloween and I am beginning to see why Italian horror films, especially those by Mario Bava, resonate with horror fans. Part it might be the old-school style of filming, reminiscent of early Universal monster films like "The Mummy" and "Frankenstein," but have the added benefit of being shot in color. As great as some of the early Universal films were, horror works better when you can see the sunken and disturbing colors on a shocked face.

Another part might be that Bava believes in the concept that true horror comes from what we don't see, letting our imaginations and fears fill in the gaps for us.

But after doing some research on this film, "Black Sabbath," I found that Bava shot in the film in Italian, but was heavily changed, re-edited and even re-shot when the film was bought for distribution by Warner Brothers. The reason American companies were interested in this particular movie was because Bava had begun to make a name for himself around the world as the next great master of horror, and because Bava cast Boris Karloff as the narrator throughout the film, with Karloff still being the biggest name in horror films since "Frankenstein."

The version I saw of "Black Sabbath" was the American version, which did show the three horror anthology segments in a different order than Bava intended and lacks a proper ending narration from Karloff.


I found "A Drop Of Water" to be the most fascinating segment, since it hooks you in from the beginning with a wonderfully vibrant color scheme and a rickety old house, yet there is a single occupant that is more than content living there. It is the shortest of the three segments but makes the most of its time with a simple story of haunting an old friend who has mistreated the dead.

"The Telephone" started off wonderfully, almost like a "Twilight Zone" episode, invoking mystery and intrigue about a man considered dead contacting his girlfriend through a blood-red phone, talking about how the two of them will soon be together forever. But by the end, most of the intrigue is gone and things are wrapped up a little too nicely for how strange it was trying to be.

Finally, we have "The Wurdalak," which feels more like a lost Universal horror film than anything else. It doesn't have the same level of intrigue and mystery as the other two segments, so this one feels out-of-place in "Black Sabbath." It does introduce a type of vampire I've never heard of, a vampire that only feeds on people they love, but it does not do anything with that premise outside of the usual vampire traits we have all heard of before.

Overall, "Black Sabbath" is hit-and-miss, or at least the American version is. I can't say anything for the Italian version, but this did make me want to check out more of Mario Bava's work and see his ideas of horror expanded upon. "A Drop Of Water" was brief yet satisfying, and the better parts of "The Telephone" were captivating and terrifying. But as a horror anthology movie, this one was so-so.

Final Grade: C+

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Movie Review - "The Black Cat" (1934)


Wow, I would have never guessed - Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff are the same height. Either Dracula is taller than I thought he was, or Frankenstein is shorter than I gave him credit for.

The height of these two massive horror stars does come into play at one point their first meeting, 1934's "The Black Cat," with Lugosi playing a Hungarian psychologist who has recently been released from a massive prison after 15 years, supposedly put there by Karloff, an eccentric Austrian architect who has build his futuristic mansion on a former battlefield. Lugosi blames Karloff for his imprisonment and for the death of his wife and daughter, with Karloff keeping the wife encased in a glass shrine, so that everyone may see her beauty for all eternity.

In other words, Lugosi is psychically seeking revenge, while Karloff is obsessed with collecting people and death.


For a film coming off the heels of "Dracula" and "Frankenstein," it is strange to see these two in roles that doesn't involve anything supernatural. To see these icons play people, crazed as they may be, instead of other-worldly monsters and abominations. Which is why their same height is so striking - it makes you realize they are playing humans who are equally matched, instead of monsters that tower over us.

However, I will say that "The Black Cat" takes a while to get moving. There's a plot involving a couple on their honeymoon, whom Lugosi saves and takes to Karloff's castle for rest, but we learn little about these two, outside of the husband being a famous writer of mysteries. They move the plot forward and give Lugosi's character something to fight for, but all they do distract from some of the better scenes involving the two lead actors.

Overall, "The Black Cat" has some great scenes between Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, the first time these two shared the screen together, and does a wonderful job showing how both men are despicable creatures who enjoy the sight of others in pain. But with too much focus on other uninteresting characters, this one does leave me cold, wishing there had been a tighter focus on the lead actors, or at least better written minor characters.

Final Grade: B-

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Movie Review - "The Mummy" (1932)


This has quickly become my favorite of the early Universal horror films, even ahead of "Dracula" and "Frankenstein." While those horror movies rely on high-concept monsters that have since become larger than life, "The Mummy" relies heavily on mood and atmosphere, where the empty darkness is just as much of a player as the titular mummy.

If you've seen the 1999 remake of "The Mummy" starring Brendan Fraser, then you know the basic premise - archeologists uncover an ancient tomb and disturb the slumber of a 3,700-year old mummy, who is now set on bringing is one true love back to life as well and silence anyone who gets in his way. While the remake is more action-oriented, the 1932 film focuses on the unnerving performance by horror-icon Boris Karloff, who gets far more screen time than he did in "Frankenstein," and gets to speak, always about his undying love for his Ankh-es-en-Amon.

While Karloff offers subdued control throughout the film, always using the archeologists to get what he needs and using his ancient magic to kill those who stand in his way, the lack of a score throughout most of the film and the dark lighting play just as big of a part. There is a general feeling of emptiness in "The Mummy," like the sands of Egypt, that provoke a sense of unease and mystery. Like you might be swallowed by the shifting sands at any moment. This is something other early Universal horror films lack, the atmosphere that nature is just as much of an enemy as the monster.

Overall, "The Mummy" not only sets the standards to every following supernatural archeological movie, but shows that silence and a creepy Karloff performance can be as terrifying as everything else. While it is a shorter film, around 75 minutes, every frame is oozing with atmosphere.

Final Grade: A

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Movie Review - "Kubo and the Two Strings" (2016)


As I sat down to watch "Kubo and the Two Strings," I noticed a child sitting near me with his father. He couldn't have been older than six. He was squirming in his chair, making lots of noise about wanting his Icee. I could make out glances of the father constantly smiling, even though his kid wasn't interested in the movie. Perhaps the father wanted to see the movie more than his kid, or he was just thrilled to share a moment with his child. Or, maybe he knew what was coming.

Because after a certain point in "Kubo and the Two Strings," when the villains make their first appearance, and the bright and colorful Japanese world turns to night and we see these two shadowy figures drapped in long cloaks wearing masks with an eternal smile that cover their entire faces, this film takes a drastic and severely dark turn.

After that scene, I never heard a peep out of the kid. I would occasionally glance over to see if he was still there and not asleep - his eyes were transfixed on the screen, sometimes filled with awe, other times with terror.


Some people have compared "Kubo and the Two Strings" to Japanese mythology, as well as films from Disney and Pixar, especially darker ones. But after watching this little boy go through so many startling emotions, I think "Kubo" has more in common with Don Bluth films from the 1980s, like "The Secret of NIHM" and "The Land Before Time." These films hid behind the cloak of being called "children's animation" by showing colorful and cute cartoons, only to throw our heroes into horrifying situations that would scar any child for life.

And yet, those who stuck around couldn't get enough of those films. While Disney animated films keep a child distracted, usually putting it on in the background while kids play with toys, Don Bluth's best work demanded attention. Those films were haunting, but that's what made them so memorable.

"Kubo and the Two Strings" works like this, as you get invested in the dark mystery of this world, learning how the mythmaking works and the fantastic powers at play.

As our hero, Kubo (Art Parkinson), is born his grandfather steals one of his eyes. His parents take Kubo away from his castle and flee, his father dying in the process. Kubo's mother takes him to a hidden village, where his mother lies motionless during the day and is lively and loving as soon as the moon comes out. During the day, Kubo goes into the village and uses his magical powers to make origami come to life, which he uses to tell fantastic stories of the samurai Hanzo fighting the dreaded Moon King, though he is never able to come up with an ending to his story.

But one night, Kubo finds out why he shouldn't stay out once the sun sets, and learns that his story about Hanzo is not a fantasy. With the help of a talking monkey (Charlize Theron) and a cursed samurai-bug (Matthew McConaughey), Kubo now sets out on a journey to collect the mythical pieces of Hanzo's armor and fight the Moon King, his grandfather.

This is the best looking film Laika productions has created since "Coraline," with a distinct focus on origami and use of paper. At one point, Kubo creates a ship out of leaves and they use it to sail across this expansive ocean. There's something about this flimsy orange boat traveling across a vast sea with hardly a ripple to be seen, the water being a perfect mirror to the setting sun.


These beautiful moments are contrasted nicely with the horrors that await them at every turn. Like a massive red skeleton with samurai swords sticking out of its head, or an ocean filled with enormous yellow eyes that fill you with misery, making you relive your worst memories until you drown of sadness.

This is what I mean by "Kubo" being similar to Don Bluth's films - This world is filled with wonders that too mysterious to fully comprehend, but also ones that are too terrifying. It is both surreal and whimsical at the same time. It can be hard to watch, but you can't look away from it either.


"Kubo and the Two Strings" works a modern "The Secret of NIMH," with some added mythology and fantasy for good measure. This one is beautifully animated, using both stop-motion animation and CGI, filled with a colorful cast of characters and a fascinating back story for Kubo. But the film doesn't shy away from dark and disturbing moments and show that this world can be as harsh and cruel as it is wonderous and awesome. For that reason, it is one of the best children's' films I've seen in a while.

Final Grade: A-

Friday, September 9, 2016

Movie Review - "Broken Arrow" (1950)


"Broken Arrow" is a respectable and compassionate western when you consider the time it came out. In 1950, the villain of every western was either a lone evil cowboy or, more likely, Native Americans. "Stagecoach" started this trend, because Native Americans seemed like the natural rival to roaming cowboys of the west, who would fight for their territory. Thus, it was often shown that Native Americans were the bad guys who had to be stopped.

But then "Broken Arrow" came along to us that the Native American man was no different from any other man, and could be just as reasonable and understanding. The film follows prospector Tom Jeffords (James Stewart) as he attempts to befriend rival Native American leader Cochise (Jeff Chandler), who has been able to round-up nearly every tribe across the continent together to help their struggle and take back their land. Jeffords is convinced that he can reason with Cochise and at least get him to allow mail-carriers through their territory.

"Broken Arrow" does its best to show the struggle to maintaining peace between the Native Americans and the people of Tuscon, both of whom want to stop the continuous war and bloodshed, but are afraid of change and what the other side might be preparing for. There is this nagging lack of trust, but Jeffords and Cochise are convinced this will fade over time.

But the reason "Broken Arrow" stands out is because of what it did that no other western before 1950 did - have so much respect for the Native American community. In this film, these tribes are coordinated and calculating when they need to be, but also filled with compassion. They understand that they world around them is changed, and they must adapt to survive - whether that means fighting for survival, or lowering their weapons and offering a hand in friendship.

For this, I applaud "Broken Arrow" for destroying the cliché of the evil Native Americans in westerns and making these tribes relatable.

Final Grade: B-

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Movie Review - "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" (1941)


This is the first time I've had an opportunity to talk about a dead film genre - The screwball comedy.

A screwball comedy can be traced back as far as Frank Capra's "It Happened One Night" and hit its popularity in the mid-1930s and early 1940s, especially when director Preston Sturges made "The Lady Eve" and "The Palm Beach Story." A screwball comedy is usually about an unlikely romance that forms between two drastically different yet equally awkward and strange characters, and plays heavily on the slapstick and physical side of the relationship. You won't see screwball comedies today, since they've been replaced with romantic comedies.

It's strange to have grown up in an age where romantic comedies are so prevalent, to the point they're almost a cliché, and then go back and watch films like "Bringing Up Baby" and "The Philadelphia Story" to see how that genre has evolved over the years. The difference between a screwball comedy and a romantic comedy is noticeable, and yet difficult to describe. In a film like "When Harry Met Sally..." you can tell this is about the romance that is slowly forming between two characters, but in "It Happened One Night," the romance sneaks up on you. These two characters go on a journey together, and slowly realize they want to be with the other.

"Mr. & Mrs. Smith" is a screwball comedy that came out in the middle of that craze, but picked the wrong director for the job - Alfred Hitchcock.

In a film about a couple that has been unhappily married for a few years finding out their marriage has been nullified and can now do all the single things they've wanted to do, Hitchcock is not the proper director for this story. There is no sense of thrill or suspense throughout this film, and almost everything is played for laughs. It comes across like Hitchcock wanted to be like Preston Sturges and tell a witty yet heartwarming story, but gave up halfway through and gave in to the slapstick.

As a screwball comedy, "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" is a fine distraction that has some good chemistry between lead actors Robert Montgomery and Carole Lombard, with a touching, if a bit rushed, climax in the mountains as the two realize how they feel about one another. But as a Hitchcock film, this one doesn't hold up at all, with no discernible marks or traits you would expect out of the director.

Final Grade: C

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Movie Review - "Lady In The Lake" (1947)


Imagine "Hardcore Henry" without any shakey-cam or nauseating fight sequences, and you'll get the idea for "Lady In The Lake."

The film follows private detective Phillip Marlowe, having been portrayed by many actors including Humphrey Bogart, Elliott Gould and Robert Mitchum but now being played by Robert Montgomery, as he decides to stop being a private dic., supposedly because it doesn't pay well, and becomes a mystery novel writer, starting with one of his own cases. But as Marlowe turns his story into his publisher (Audrey Totter), she asks him to take on a case that would pay handsomely, involving the missing wife of his publisher's boss. Marlowe takes the case, and quickly finds out that murder and betrayal is involved here.

What separates "Lady In The Lake" from other mysteries and noir at the time is the entire film is shot from Marlowe's first-person perspective. What the detective sees, the audience sees as well. This means that every character is talking directly into the camera and we see little of Montgomery, only briefly catching a glimpse of him in the mirror or his shadow if the lighting is right.

This idea can work, but after watching this film and "Hardcore Henry," I have become convinced that it is a novelty that wears thin quickly. We never feel any connection to Marlowe because we can't see how he's reacting to everything. He finds a note addressed to the missing wife at the publisher's house and we have no idea if he's confused, angry, upset or a bit of everything.

Granted, the movie is more about letting the audience solve the case along with Marlowe, but the first-person perspective gets old rather quickly when everyone keeps talking into the camera and we hear the disembodied voice of Marlowe yell at every suspect. Still, I do appreciate that "Lady In The Lake" is basically saying the fourth wall doesn't exist here, especially when Marlowe introduces the film by telling us we are the stars.

Overall, while the mystery of "Lady In The Lake" is solid, the camera-work and perspective of the film gets old after the first act. Montgomery tries to be the smooth-talker as well as having the brevity of Phillip Marlowe, but something seems off about his performance, especially since Bogart and Gould captured the role so brilliantly. Nothing all that special here, just a gimmick that over stays its welcome.

Final Grade: C

Monday, September 5, 2016

Movie Review - "Logan's Run" (1976)


A cult classic from 1976, it is not hard to see why "Logan's Run" has left its mark in the science-fiction genre. Set in the year 2274, human society now lives in a futuristic domed city after the nuclear holocaust, where all humans are born artificially with gems in their hands so the computers can keep track of their lives. This city is filled with parties and clubs and no elders in sight, since human lives are now meant to be terminated after reaching the age of 30. Daily events called Carousel are performed and celebrated, where the "elders" are renewed in a strange, almost psychedelic, manner. But there are always those who don't want to be sacrificed and become runners to be hunted down by the police, including Logan 5 (Michael York).

What makes science-fiction such a fascinating genre is that you can tell stories that you could never dream of in other genres. "Logan's Run" presents us with a society where no one is over the age of 30 and how different the world would be, where life is a continuous party and thrill ride until you willingly give up your life for the greater good. Society is run by computer and we don't have to make any decisions for ourselves, except for the choice to stay or run for your life.

"Logan's Run" reminds me of "Soylent Green" if it embraced the fully acid-trip style of the 1970s. This film screams of the love and peace era, when youths were questioning their place in the world, expressing their feelings through protests and drugs, while also rejecting the society that came before them for "a better world."

In fact, "Logan's Run" has a bit in common with other post-apocalyptic movies of the time, including "Planet Of The Apes." The third act of "Logan's Run" follows our hero as he tracks down runners who supposedly made it out of the domed city to a place called Sanctuary. As he makes it out of the dome, we find out this place is right outside of Washington D.C. Logan finds himself in a world utterly foreign to him, but all too familiar to the audience. While Logan doesn't learn how the world go to be this way, he does joyously learn that humans can live long past 30 and wishes to share that knowledge with everyone.

Overall, "Logan's Run" is deserving of cult status, with some unique ideas on how society would work if it were run by children and young-adults. The effects are sometimes impressive, especially when overlooking the sprawling domed city, and other times not so great, like the explosion effects. The film slows down once Logan makes it out of the city, a drastic change to the fast pace while inside the dome. Not a great science fiction film, but certainly one worth looking at.

Final Grade: B-