Sunday, October 23, 2011


It's Halloween season! Here are few of my favorite horror films. Some of them you know, some you might not. Enjoy . . .

1) The Devil’s Backbone (Guillermo Del Toro, 2001) – Arguably Del Toro’s greatest film, TDB tells the story of a young boy who enters an orphanage in post-war Spain only to discover that it is haunted by the spirit of one of its former inhabitants. Visually rich and emotionally captivating, Del Toro's film is that rare ghost story that empathizes less with the living than the dead.

2) Cat People (Val Lewton, 1942) – Before there was Jaws, there was Cat People. A monster film that drew scares not by revealing the creature but shrouding it in mystery. Employing an economical use of lighting and camera work, Director Val Lewton created an enormously suspenseful film that set the stage for modern horror and left enough room for interpretation as to suggest the existence of something far more terrifying than things that go bump in the night: the mind's susceptibility to madness.

3) Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright, 2004) – Following the success of his cult television show "Spaced" (which if you haven't seen, you must!), Edgar Wright made this auspicious film debut which is without question, THE best zombie film of all time. It has all the ingredients of a great zombie film just without the crappy performances and unintentional humor of most entries of the genre.    

4) The Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale, 1935) – Far superior to the original, TBOF is a poignant, irreverently funny and highly inventive mainstream horror classic. How James Whale, one of Hollywood’s first openly gay directors managed to make this film (homosexual undertones and all) in the old studio system is a testament to his bravery and genius. Bride is undoubtedly the greatest of all the classic Universal monster movies. 

5) Through a Glass Darkly (Ingmar Bergman, 1961) – Bergman was a master of psychological horror and this is one of his finest works. Recently adapted to a stage play starring Carey Mulligan, Bergman’s masterpiece portrays a young woman whom after being released from a mental institution gradually begins to return to insanity during a stay at her family's vacation home. Almost sounds like a great set up for a vacation-gone-wrong comedy but funny this film is not. It is an extremely stark, disturbing and hauntingly beautiful art-house gem.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Despite the opinion of many, to objectively say whether a film excels or straight up sucks is frankly impossible. No matter how strongly one feels about something, criticism is entirely subjective. If you disagree with me then that just proves my point. People can’t agree on everything. Even the most seemingly universally appealing films have their detractors. For instance, a former classmate of mine once said that she couldn’t understand how some people could be so emotionally affected by watching a Pixar film that they would resort to crying. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. But you know what? That’s just like her opinion, man.

Pixar doesn’t do it for everyone and neither does open ended, existential dramas like Half Nelson and Greenberg. The overall ambiguity and uncertainty of those works can be quite frustrating for those favoring stories that don’t demand the use of patience and brainwork. That is not a diss by the way. From time to time, I crave mindless, popcorn fare. But ultimately, those kinds of movies don’t resonate. They serve their purpose as temporary, mind-numbing distractions from the mundaness of everyday life or whatever shit is stressing you out at the time. However, complex character driven dramas like the aforementioned Greenberg don’t let the viewer off so easily. The audience must work. Instead of being told how to think or feel, they have to look into themselves and sometimes confront their own least desirable qualities. Furthermore, without the luxury of a “happily ever after” ending, the audience is required to use their imagination and speculate what the fate of the characters is going to be once the story is over.

For many, an open ending is a much more satisfying alternative to a traditional one in which everything culminates in a neat resolution, which doesn’t seem like a close representation of reality. Some of my favorite endings provide you with a sense of resolution as well as mystification. Greenberg is a good example. By framing Florence’s niece’s drawing and allowing her to listen to his coke-induced, tangential voicemail in which he analyzes the film Wall Street, Greenberg is finally beginning to accept his flawed nature and where life has taken him. As for what’s going to eventually happen between him and his lady friend? Well, that’s totally up in the air. The climax of Half Nelson functions in a similar fashion. Dan and his student Drey arrive at his apartment after she discovers him free-basing with prostitutes in a motel. Dan tries to shave off his beard and Drey says that he missed a spot. Dan is now more willing than ever to change but as evidenced in his inability to shave properly, his road to sobriety is sure to be long and messy. One in which eventual recovery is not for certain. That is a great ending. My friend asked me how I felt about a more “traditional, predictable” ending like Toy Story 3. I thought, traditional yes, predictable no. Sure, we know the toys are going to survive because it’s a kids movie but we don’t know what Andy’s going to do with them after they get back. What ultimately happens is suprising, poignant and drives the message of the film home: one can only move forward by learning to let go. It’s a neat resolution but unpredictable and resonant.

All in all, the world is filled with variety. There are films of various lengths, genres, origins etc. Despite the disparity, none of them can be said to truly be better or worse. It is simply just a matter of opinion.    

Saturday, June 11, 2011

SUPER 8 REVIEW!!! (Spoiler Free)

As far as summer blockbusters go, J.J. Abrams's Super 8 is tops! Filled with superb performances, great humor and action sequences so intense that they might cause some filmgoers to go into shell shock, Abrams's latest is all kinds of fun.  It's a geek film through and through, drawing inspiration from the early works of the film's producer Steven Spielberg as well as those of John Carpenter (The Thing), George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead), Ridley Scott (Alien), Fred Dekker (Monster Squad) and many others. The film does have its flaws but despite what many film critics seem to think, Super 8 isn't attempting to be a masterpiece. It is far more personal and poignant than most blockbuster fare but ultimately, its sole priority is to entertain.

Set during the summer of 1979 in a Ohio steel town, Super 8 focuses on Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) and his group of friends as they attempt to make a Romero-inspired Super 8mm Zombie film to enter into a film competition. One night, while shooting at a train station, the group witnesses a catastrophic train crash which releases a sentient being of unknown origin into their unassuming small town. Chaos ensues as the military arrives under mysterious circumstances, disappearances start occurring and the town folk become increasingly paranoid. Meanwhile, Joe and his friends swear an oath to keep their presence at the train station that night a secret.

Aside from Super 8's many thrills, what really holds the film together is the kids. Not since Stand by Me has there probably been such a well cast ensemble of teens. Whether they're talking over each other in a diner or singing The Knack's "My Sherona" on a sidewalk after sneaking out at night, watching the interactions between them is nothing short of sublime. Joel Courtney plays a great protagonist. He is warm, affectionate and slightly awkward. The chemistry between him and Elle Fanning's Alice is amazing, most succinctly displayed in the "zombie kiss" scene. Riley Griffiths is awesome as the bossy director of the group but my personal favorite is Ryan Lee as the "in-dire-need-of-ritalin" pyro-maniac Cary.

The action in the film is something to behold. As evidenced in both the openings of Star Trek and the Lost pilot, Abrams is a master of disaster, pulling the audience into the most anarchic and alarming situations with just the right amount of tastefulness. With the exception of the train accident, a great deal of the action in the film is built around mystery and suspense. That is until closer to the end when chaos reigns supreme.

Without going into spoilers, I will say that the biggest crutch I had with the film is the script's lack of focus. While the mash up of disparate influences is a huge part of the film's appeal, the abundance also makes Super 8 seem a bit scattered which made it difficult to buy into some of the characters' actions and the pay offs in the story. For this reason, the culmination of events, while somewhat effective, ultimately lacked enough resonance.

All in all, I really loved this film. While not as impressive as Star Trek, Super 8 is an extremely fun and entertaining thrill ride, one that will not be soon forgotten.

Here are a few of the film's influences:


Thursday, June 9, 2011

Word of the Day: Montage

Montage - Coined by Russian film theorists in the 1920's, it is a film editing technique in which several shots are cut together to form a sequence that condenses time and space. Montage is most prominently employed in music videos and sports films.

Here's an example . . .

which was inspired by this . . .




Wednesday, June 8, 2011


That's right peeps! The summer movie season is upon us and as is tradition, a slew of sequels (Cars 2, Transformers: Dark of the Moon) reboots (Conan the Barbarian) and comic book adaptations (Green Lantern, Captain America . . .) will be gracing the screens for our mind numbing pleasure. So far, we've gotten an X-Men prequel, a Thor film directed by Shakespearean actor Kenneth Branagh no less and a fifth--yes, fifth!--Fast and the Furious movie. Despite their cheesy moments, X-Men: First Class and Thor both proved to be good entertainment. As for Fast Five . . . well, never quite got the chance to see it  . . . Anyhow, of all the multiplex hits released so far this season, Bridesmaids is undoubtedly the best. Despite the film's ridiculous marketing campaign which labels it as a "chick flick for guys" as if it's some kind of universal anti-perspirant, Bridesmaids is simply a great comedy with superb performances (Isn't Kristen Wiig the shit?) and a perfect blend of poignancy and gross out humor (the dress fitting scene is going down in comedy history). 

In addition to mainstream fare, new films by legendary auteurs such as Terence Malick (The Tree of Life), Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris) and Jean-Luc Godard (Film Socialisme) have also been released this season. Like any film geek, I worship at the alter of Malick (Badlands, Days of Heaven) and The Tree of Life is certainly nothing short of a masterpiece but I gotta say, Woody Allen's latest was the most enjoyable film I've seen this summer. Allen's Midnight in Paris is a smart, funny and whimsical portrayal of both the wonderment and pitfalls of romanticizing the past, a theme seldom seen in the cinema as of late. The film also happens to be cast to perfection! Owen Wilson is a great Woody Allen protagonist (who knew?) and the supporting cast features everyone from Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon) as an insufferable wannabe intellectual to Allison Pill (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) as Zelda Fitzgerald! Then there's Marion Cotillard in her most enchanting performance to date.

This weekend comes my most anticipated film of the summer, J.J. Abrams' Super 8! While reviews have been relatively mixed, I can't help but be be psyched out of my mind to see a big-budget Spielberg inspired action-adventure film set in the 70's helmed by the creator of Lost. How can that not be a great time?? Anyway, we'll get to my review of that later. Until then, keep enjoying the great weather!